Science and the Question of God, Part 5

Bookmark and Share

October 21, 2010 Tags: Biblical Interpretation

Today's entry was written by Randy Isaac. Please note the views expressed here are those of the author, not necessarily of The BioLogos Foundation. You can read more about what we believe here.

Science and the Question of God, Part 5

Today’s blog is the final entry in a five-part series, which has been adapted from a new Scholarly Article found here. All references have been removed for the blog series but can be found in the full paper. Previously, Randy Isaac introduced evolutionism, creationism, and intelligent design. Today, Isaac introduces the “two-book model” as an alternative approach.

The two-book model

The three ideologies described previously have failed to provide a persuasive answer from science to the question of God. Other philosophical perspectives such as cosmological fine-tuning and the anthropic principle also claim many adherents but these arguments are not compelling for everyone. Many others have and will attempt such an answer. Perhaps some will succeed but we must also consider the possibility that science cannot answer the question of God. The fundamental reason may be understood from the two-book model itself. Consider the version of this model shown in Fig. 1. God has revealed himself to us through his Word and his works. If we distort that methodology, we encounter all sorts of difficulties.

Consider a theology that interprets the Word of God with no acknowledgment of nature. The incarnation then makes no sense. The very concept of God humbling himself to become part of his creation requires that the creation exists and that it has inherent value. Nature cannot be ignored or devalued.

Think of a theology that studies God through nature rather than through the Word of God. This is natural theology, which has waxed and waned through the ages but fails to bring us to a clear picture of God. Without the guidance of the Word of God, we have no basis for determining what aspect of nature reflects God’s character. Is it the beauty of the sunset or the terror of the tornado? Is it the serene color of a flower garden or the voracious feeding of a carnivore?

Studying nature through the Word of God rather than through science leads to a perspective that is sometimes called “Scriptural Geology.” This is essentially the creationism that was discussed earlier, determining geological and other scientific “facts” from Scripture rather than from observation. It is a result of seeing the Word of God as a revelation of nature in addition to being a revelation of God. Some people believe that in order to be a revelation of God, the Bible must be a revelation of all things, including nature. Many of the public conflicts between science and Christian faith seem to arise from a search for concordance between observations of nature and the interpretations of nature derived from Scripture. The two-book model does not lead to such conflicts since it views Scripture as the revelation of God, his incarnate Son, and the plan of redemption.

Studying the Word of God with scientific methodology leads to higher criticism. This approach can be a useful means of understanding the text and the intended message. Taken by itself, however, without acknowledgment of any divine inspiration, it can lead to a purely human interpretation and a denial of any revelation of God.

Each of these permutations leads to a difficulty in obtaining a rational understanding of God. In this blog series, we have been considering the possibility of finding God through science alone in essentially a one-book model rather than a two-book model. It appears that perhaps science by itself cannot answer the question of God. The two-book model provides a balanced approach, incorporating the complementary elements of nature and Scripture as revelations of God. In this way, we can see a clearer path to perceiving God. Only the dual approach of seeing God through his Son, as revealed in his Word, and through nature gives us a more coherent picture of God.

The sequence in which we read these two books can also make a significant difference. George Murphy points out that it is important to read the book of God’s Word first, giving us a Christ centric focus for our study of nature. We then understand the incarnate Christ as the creator of all things. In the light of God’s plan of redemption through Christ, we see the importance of the crucifixion and the resurrection. It is Christ’s death on the cross that enables the resurrection and the promise of new life for all. From that perspective, the principle of life from death in nature is understood as consistent with God’s plan for all of creation. God brings order out of chaos, good out of evil, and life out of death in every part of his creation.

The stereoscopic perspective of the two books of God’s revelation brings God into focus in a way that cannot be seen otherwise. Science may not be able to answer the question of God by itself, but God has answered the question of science, bringing meaning and purpose into a world where randomness and chance seem to abound when viewed only through its own lens.

Note: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not of the American Scientific Affiliation.


Randy Isaac is a solid-state physics research scientist and executive director of the American Scientific Affiliation (ASA), where he has been a member since 1976 and a fellow since 1996. Isaac received his bachelor’s degree from Wheaton College in Illinois and his doctorate in physics from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He joined IBM to work at the Thomas J. Watson Research Center in 1977 and most recently served as the vice-president of systems technology and science for the company.

< Previous post in series


View the archived discussion of this post

This article is now closed for new comments. The archived comments are shown below.

Loading...
Page 3 of 3   « 1 2 3
Barry - #36161

October 24th 2010

Paul - “From my perspective of faith, I interpret this as clear evidence of Gods wonderful creative work, but there are others who disagree with me because they do not believe.
So I would say: faith comes first, then the ‘evidence’.”

What discovery regarding the origin of DNA would lead you to abandon your faith?


Barry - #36163

October 24th 2010

sy - “That is why there is no contradiction here.”

There is no contradiction if you just ignore the inconsistencies, buy that is hardly an intellectually honest position to maintain. Your argument, it seems, is that wherever we see inconsistencies between archaeology (or science maybe?) and the bible, then this is what we must expect because the bible isn’t a textbook? However, where they agree, this is evidence of biblical truth.

Have I got that right?


Paul R - #36206

October 24th 2010

Barry - re. your question: ‘What discovery regarding the origin of DNA would lead you to abandon your faith?’
None would.  - But your question seems to indicate that we are not really understanding each other and perhaps I haven’t explained myself well enough. No scientific discovery can ever impact my faith since it’s not founded on scientific evidence in the first place. As the apostle Paul puts it ‘...that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom but on God’s power.’ (1. Cor. 2:5)

Besides, I would assume that Dawkins et al. are probably already claiming that the origin of DNA can be explained by the science of today - be that plausible or not, which I’m not competent to assess.

Science and faith are forever on different planes - they look at the same material reality with different eyes. And faith can even look beyond that.


Barry - #36227

October 24th 2010

Paul R - “Barry - re. your question: ‘What discovery regarding the origin of DNA would lead you to abandon your faith?’
None would”

Thanks for being honest. So you interpret the mysteries of DNA as “clear evidence of God’s wonderful creative work,” yet a scientific discovery that might explain the origin of DNA in naturalistic terms would not lead to you questioning your faith for a nanosecond. You’d simply move on to another “unanswered” scientific conundrum and claim that was evidence for your god. It isn’t that the claim for the existence of god is a non-scientific claim, but that every time that claim has been answered scientifically, the goalposts are moved. Evolution was embraced for exactly that reason.

You must accept that this position has no intellectual credibility.


sy - #36271

October 25th 2010

Barry

I think you are not understanding Paul’s position or my own (I completely agree with Paul). You write “You’d simply move on to another “unanswered” scientific conundrum and claim that was evidence for your god”. and yet Paul said ” No scientific discovery can ever impact my faith since it’s not founded on scientific evidence in the first place”

In other words, Paul (and myself, and many others here) do not base our faith on evidence from scientific findings. The fact that some scientific evidence, like the fine tuning of the universe, or the mystery of the origin of DNA based life, might be consistent with God the Creator, is nice, but it is NOT the basis for faith, that would therefore disappear if these findings changed.

You make the same mistake wrt my comment on the bible and archeology. I do not claim (as you assert) that when the Bible is right about historical events, that proves the Bible is always true. The Bible is an workd of literature, written by human beings. You can take it as that. Christians take it as something more, the inspired word of God. But we dont have to “prove” that its true in all respects. Is Shakespeare true?


sy - #36274

October 25th 2010

Paul

Just a note about DNA. There is as yet, despite a great deal of effort, no credible theory regarding the origin of the genetic code or the DNA based system of translation. Such a theory could of course be proposed some day. I have my own reasons to believe that it wont be.


Barry - #36344

October 25th 2010

sy

I think I understand your position all too well. There is no discovery of any kind at any time that will shake your faith in belief in god (and related matters). That’s fine as far as it goes. It then depends on the claims you make on the part of that god. If those claims involve some kind of interaction with the natural world those claims can, in principle, be tested and disproved. I understand that this still won’t change your commitment to your faith, but it would force you to accept that a specific claim is disproven. This is exactly how the dismantling of Genesis occurred with evolution and why most sensible christians (for example) realize the stupidity of maintaining a young earth and 6 day creation.

Yet Paul claims DNA as evidence for his belief. Did you not read that claim? It is intellectually inconsistent to make such a claim and then maintain that disproving the claim would have no impact on belief. The position for faith would have more respect if the claim hadn’t been made. It is precisely this duplicity (for that is what it is) that needs to be challenged and exposed for the empty vessel that it is.


Barry - #36345

October 25th 2010

sy

“Just a note about DNA. There is as yet, despite a great deal of effort, no credible theory regarding the origin of the genetic code or the DNA based system of translation. Such a theory could of course be proposed some day. I have my own reasons to believe that it wont be.”

This sounds more like a hope than a prediction and, as such, is an argument for ignorance. Let’s, for the sake of argument, grant you that we will never discover the precise origin of DNA. Would that strengthen the god hypothesis?


sy - #36368

October 25th 2010

Barry

You claim that you understand me all too well, but your words belie this. You ask if some finding would “strengthen the god hypothesis?” There is no god hypothesis. This is what you are failing to understand. I dont believe in hypotheses, I use them to test ideas. I believe in God, it is not a hypothesis. I know this is hard for you, sort of like describing blue to person born blind. Just try to see that all of your thought and language is invovled with proof and evidence and being convinced by objective data, and refutaiton, while faith is outside of all that. Faith is a gift, which you can choose to accept. The fact that I was given this gift is all the proof I need that Giver exists and loves me.


Barry - #36418

October 25th 2010

sy

“Faith is a gift, which you can choose to accept. The fact that I was given this gift is all the proof I need that Giver exists and loves me.”

I understand. So why claim naturalistic processes as evidence of god? If god has nothing to do with evidence and testing, why make claims that bring faith into that realm? But you must understand that if you do invoke such causation it will be shown for the emptiness that it is…in naturalistic terms. You can’t have it both ways.


Paul R - #36432

October 25th 2010

Hi Barry,

you said: ‘Yet Paul claims DNA as evidence for his belief.’ Not so. What I said was the following:
‘This evidence, however, consists of facts whose interpretation is based on my faith and is not incontrovertible…’

My faith lets me marvel at the enormous complexity of life, my faith is there first and provides a basis for interpretation, but does not claim that the observed complexity makes God’s existence more probable for anyone who does not believe.


sy - #36440

October 25th 2010

What Paul said. Amen


R Hampton - #36449

October 25th 2010

I would rather elevate scriptures to a God-like position as history has never shown it to be disastrous to the Church.

Idolatry is still a sin even if your intention is good.

But elevate science to equal God and you have a Dawkin as a result.

That makes no sense. It would be fair to say that Francisco J. Ayala holds science to be equal and complimentary to Scripture, but Richard Dawkins is an atheist and rejects Scripture.


Cal - #36461

October 25th 2010

R Hampton:

Amen, bibliolatry is equivalent with any sort of idolatry that would raise Human reason or science above the unblemished Life that is within all of us.


Barry - #36520

October 26th 2010

Paul R - “My faith lets me marvel at the enormous complexity of life, my faith is there first and provides a basis for interpretation, but does not claim that the observed complexity makes God’s existence more probable for anyone who does not believe.”

sy - “What Paul said. Amen”

This makes perfect sense from the perspective of “faith.” Anything can make perfect sense from the perspective of faith. It’s just meaningless. Tell me, is there anything you could look at and say “this is not evidence of god’s work?” What would that look like? How would you know? How would you set about falsifying the claim?


Paul R - #36594

October 26th 2010

Barry,

somehow we seem to be talking in circles and it seems I’m still not able to explain myself well enough. It may also have to do with a difference in understanding of the term ‘evidence’ that we are all using.

When I talk about evidence of God’s works in the context of faith, I am not refering to facts that can prove something and possibly support a scientific theory. I’m not even particularly interested in the intricate mechanics of how things work down to the molecular level, since I’m not a scientist.

I’m just impressed by the beauty and ‘intelligence’ I am able to observe in creation. This, however, proves nothing to anybody else. That’s exactly why ID has been dismissed as unscientific.

A perspective of faith is meaningless in terms of science, quite right, but that’s Ok with me. I’m not out to make any scientific proof.


Barry - #36718

October 26th 2010

Paul R - “A perspective of faith is meaningless in terms of science, quite right, but that’s Ok with me. I’m not out to make any scientific proof.”

And I think that is a completely acceptable position on your terms. I was simply reacting to your claim regarding DNA that “...I interpret this as clear evidence of Gods wonderful creative work.” when it isn’t “evidence” in anything other than your terms, and neither can it be “clear”. It had every appearance of a statement of fact.


Rich - #36917

October 27th 2010

sy:

I don’t wish to get embroiled in theological argument here, but I would like to make a distinction.  If by “faith” you mean belief that Jesus Christ was God and Redeemer and so on, then no one in the ID camp has ever suggested that such belief could or should be based on inferences from nature.  However, to infer that it is likely that more than chance was involved in the production of certain features of nature is a completely different matter, requiring no “faith” of that sort. 

ID’s argument is that, on balance, intelligent design rather than chance is the better explanation.  That’s where ID, as purported science, ends.  If you want to explore the implications of design theologically, then of course you can construe an argument for design as an argument for the existence of God; but the God “proved” by any such argument is not the God of Christian faith, just a generic intelligent designer with the power to actualize his designs.  Such a God is a religious blank check, which can be filled in with the name of a Deist God, a Jewish God, a Muslim God, a Hindu deity, etc.  So Christian revelation still remains every bit as necessary for salvation for Christian ID people as for TEs.


sy - #37051

October 27th 2010

Rich

I do understand your point and fully agree with it. I actually think that the ID explanation for the origin of DNA based life has a great deal more going for it, (in strictly scientific terms) than any “naturalist” random based alternatives. And as you said, this is independent of faith.

There have been some papers on abiogenesis published in the mainstream scientific literature that come very close to making the ID point, at least by inference, although of course they do not come anywhere close to mentioning a designer.


Barry - #37514

October 30th 2010

sy

“I actually think that the ID explanation for the origin of DNA based life has a great deal more going for it, (in strictly scientific terms) than any “naturalist” random based alternatives.”

In what way is this a “scientific” position?


Page 3 of 3   « 1 2 3