Our sermon suggestion this week is another one about which one could write a book: “What can we say to non-believers who say '[There is] no scientific evidence of God or the soul' in a kind & loving manner to make them think?” That is a huge topic and so to make it manageable, I'm just going to concentrate on the evidence for God. And obviously we are not going to treat the subject in anything like an exhaustive fashion. There is however considerable evidence for the existence of God.
Before we start, let's lay some groundwork. First off,
you'll notice that I am not talking about proof of God. Proof,
logically speaking, is a series of steps that lead to a valid
conclusion. Done properly it results in an inescapable assertion; ie,
that all the angles in a triangles add up to 180 degrees. In fact it
is only in mathematics and in branches of science where math
dominates that one can actually prove something. In most sciences,
like, say, biology, geology, astronomy, etc, you don't so much prove
things as accumulate evidence and make interpretations of the data
and generate hypotheses that you hope to, not prove, but demonstrate
with experiments or further evidence. The difference is if I prove
something using valid logic or correct math, it cannot be overturned.
2 + 2 will always equal 4. But if I unearth the oldest human skeleton
ever found, that can be invalidated if someone finds one older. And
the scientific family tree of humans, built on my find, will have to
be revised. The Leakeys, a dynasty of paleontologists, kept doing that, in fact, overturning previous scientific reconstructions of the
evolution of hominids.
So we can speak of evidence for God but not proof
because God is not a math theorem. I cannot mathematically prove
that a meteorite hit the earth and killed off the dinosaurs. I can
show you the geologic evidence, however, that a big meteorite struck
earth in the area of the Yucatan 65 million years ago, that it threw
up a layer of iridium that coated the earth at that point in time,
and that it coincided with a massive extinction of all kinds of
species, including those we call collectively the dinosaurs. The meteor is indisputable, though you can, as scientists have, debate the connections.
another thing about science. You will always be able to find
scientists who disagree with the current consensus on some matter. It
took decades for the scientists who proposed the meteorite strike to
convince most of their colleagues that they were right. But some
still quibble about whether it caused the extinctions. Those in the minority might just be stubborn or they
may be the ones who eventually come up with a new interpretation of
the evidence or with actual evidence that makes us rethink the old
consensus. Because science is always a work in progress. So we must
be careful not to invest too much in any particular scientific
evidence of God. The evidence may shift and send both scientists and
theists scrambling to re-evaluate what we think we know.
Another thing you must understand is how numbers in
science work. Science is useless without measurements. It is all about precision. But numbers
can, if not lie, then deceive. Let's say 2 people take a test. One
person makes a score of 100 and the other gets a 0. Yet the average
of the 2 scores is 50. Neither person got anything close to that,
nor, indeed, were the scores of the 2 people anywhere close to each
other. Because of the small size of the sample and the widely
disparate results, the average tells us nothing and actually leaves a
false impression. Recently a study came out that said, on average,
atheists have higher I.Q.s than religious people. But nowhere in the
news article did it say what the gap was. I had to go find the
abstract of the scientific paper, find the difference and then do
some math to find out the gap amounts to between 4 and 5 points, less
that a third of a standard deviation. Not much. Only 1 or 2 points above the margin of error.
Plus we are not told
what the actual I.Q.s were. If they were 140 and 145 respectively, in
other words, in the genius range, it would merely mean that on
average atheists tended to display slightly more genius than the
otherwise genius theists. Or, if everyone studied was average to
begin with, the atheists might have scored 105 to the theists' 100.
Hardly something to write home about. And let's not even get started
on which of the 3 main I.Q. tests were used or the controversy over just what precisely I.Q.s measure.
And, remember it is an average. So it levels out the
achievements of undeniably brilliant believers like John
Polkinghorne, one of the discoverers of the quark and an Anglican
priest; Francis Collins, discoverer of the gene that causes cystic fibrosis and head of the Human Genome Project; Robert Bakker,
pre-eminent paleontologist, expert of dinosaurs and Pentecostal
Christian, and many more. Including Sir Isaac Newton, widely regarded
as the greatest scientist ever, who published books on the Bible and
theology. If you just read the article on religion and I.Q., you
might get the impression that people who believe in God are all
idiots or that atheists were a lot smarter. No. Get a big enough
number together and you'll find an average of merely 1 to 2 points
difference, over the margin of error.
One last caveat: There is a big difference between
the results of an experiment and the interpretation of the results.
For instance, recently a study came out that looked at the brain
activity of 9 rats as they were euthanized. The researchers found a
lot of brain activity as they died. That's the result. They then went on to say
that they thought they found the cause of Near Death Experiences.
That was their interpretation. The problem is, unless they revived
the rats and interviewed them as to what they experienced, we have no
idea if they saw a tunnel, encountered a being of light, reviewed
their lives or met up with deceased relatives, all frequent features
of Near Death Experiences among humans. What they found was that
there was a lot of firing of the neurons in the brains of these 9
rats. Whether this is analogous to what humans experience or not is quite a
leap. And 9 rats is a pretty small sample. Also while a lot of people
die hooked up to heart monitors, few patients are hooked up to EEGs
at the time of death. Dr. Eben Alexander, a neurosurgeon, was,
though, when he went into a week long coma during a severe bout of meningitis. And it was while he had no higher brain activity that he had
his Near Death Experience. So it wasn't an hallucination caused by the
firing of his neurons. The medical records confirm that. It doesn't amount to proof but it is an brain
expert's testimony and not to be lightly dismissed.
It is wise when you read an article about a new
study, to look for all the “maybe”s and “possibly”s and
“could be”s and “might be”s in the interpretation of the
results. That indicates that the scientists or possibly the reporters
are aware of the limits of what was actually demonstrated.
So, given the tricky nature of making scientific
pronouncements, what can we put forward as evidence for God?
There is the argument from mathematics. This is what
convinced Sir Anthony Flew. He attended C. S. Lewis' Socratic Club,
and while he personally admired Lewis, he was an atheist. He framed
the main modern arguments for atheism. He said that he went where the
evidence took him. And eventually he encountered these facts. There are
approximately 10 to 78th power atoms in the universe. The
universe approximately 14 billion years old. The problem is that there has not been not
enough time for all of those atoms to have configured themselves into the present
arrangement we find in the universe through sheer chance alone. It's rather like saying that if you put the parts of a computer in a box and shook them long enough, they would eventually come together as a functioning computer. This is not only highly unlikely but it would take a tremendous amount of time and that much time simply doesn't exist yet.
particular Flew pointed to self-replicating organic matter. It is not
enough that by random chance some inorganic chemicals might become
alive. They would also have to contain DNA, coded instructions that
tell the now organic molecules how to reproduce themselves. If they
didn't, then when the first accidental life died, that would be it. No further life
would continue. And for the emergence of life coded to create new life
to take place entirely by random accident would take more time that
has yet elapsed in the universe.
DNA itself is a highly improbable product of random
forces. DNA has a language and it carries information, akin to an
instruction manual for building a living being. But language is the
product of intelligence. A bird sings, and its message is either
“This is my territory; you rival guys stay away” or “Here I am,
girls, ready to mate.” Bird's brains aren't very big but they are
using them to communicate. And bird song is individual, not a predetermined repetition of what every other member of their species does.
information, and a heck of a lot more than found in bird song. But what intelligence created the language? Who came up with the
message that the language is used to communicate? Random chance? This
is analogous to the computer that comes together in the shaken box of
parts being already programmed! By whom? Oh, and the programming is
the code for making another computer—complete with the ability of
the first computer to physically make the second. The science of probability
would put the chance of this happening by itself at practically nil.
And, again, certainly not within the time allotted.
Anthony Flew did not die a Christian. The evidence
led him only so far as the kind of god Aristotle arrived at: a first
cause, an uncaused cause. But the man who created the modern
arguments for atheism could not believe in that idea anymore. Atheism
was too unbelievable.
If there is a god who caused all things and who
especially directed the universe to create life, there should be
evidence of that. There is.
In 1973, at a scientific conference celebrating the
500th birthday of Copernicus, the father of modern
astronomy, astrophysicist Brandon Carter of Cambridge presented a
paper that pointed out something startling to his fellow scientists.
As Patrick Glynn puts it, “...all the seemingly arbitrary and
unrelated constants in physics have one strange thing in common—these
are precisely the values you need if you want to have a universe
capable of producing life.” Gravity's relationship with
electromagnetism or with the nuclear weak force, the nuclear strong
force's hold on atoms, its relationship with electromagnetism, the
difference in mass between the proton and neutron, or the fact that
water is, unique among the molecules, lighter in its solid form (ice)
than in its liquid form--if any of these universal constants were
even the slightest bit different, by even a few decimal points, life would not be possible. It
appears that the universe is fine-tuned to support the emergence and
maintenance of life.
This is so mind-blowing and points so strongly
to an intelligence behind the universe that scientists have been
trying to come up with alternate explanations. The best they can do
is the idea of parallel universes. There are so many universes out
there that we just happen to be in the one that's just right for
life. The problem is that there is zero evidence that other universes
exist and no way to test to see if they are. All the universes are
supposedly separated by membranes. Which make these alternate
universes a great tool for science fiction and comic books but not
very useful for science, except to desperately explain away the fact
that this universe, the only universe we know exists, seems to be set
up specifically to support life.
Well, if some intelligence created this universe to
allow it to produce life, then shouldn't there be evidence that our
lives have a relationship to that intelligence? Yes, there is.
Just a word about scientific methodology before we
answer this question. Scientists cannot directly measure how
religious someone is. What they can do is find out how often they
attend worship, how often they pray, how often they read the
scriptures of their faith. They conclude, with good reason, that
people who participate more frequently in such things have a higher
level of religious commitment than those who do so infrequently or
not at all. That last group includes those non-church attenders who
say they are spiritual but not religious. Sorry. Science can't
Turning to Dr. Dave Matthew's book The Faith
Factor and once again to Patrick Glynn's God: The Evidence,
we find that in general people who attend church weekly are less
likely to commit suicide, less likely to get involved in drug or
alcohol abuse, less prone to depression and stress, report higher
satisfaction in their marriage and sex life, and have greater
overall happiness and satisfaction in life. In other words, religious
commitment correlates closely with better mental health.
Ah, but that
could be the result of deluding oneself! How well do religious people
do when it comes to physical health? Laying aside the fact that we
now know mental health is in fact based in the brain, and therefore to a large part physical, let us note
that study after study shows that people with higher religious
commitment tend to be physically healthier as well, recover from sickness
faster and with less complications, have lower incidence of serious
diseases like heart disease and many types of cancer, have lower
blood pressures, and live longer by an average of 3 years.
Ah, you may say, they are healthier because their
religion encourages them to avoid drinking and drugs and tobacco.
Researchers have thought of that. And they found smokers who
attended church weekly had lower blood pressure than smokers who
didn't. They found out that if you matched up people of the same age,
the same history of heart disease and bronchitis, even the same
degree of impairment of breathing based on tests, religious people still live longer.
Now think of the implications of this. If there is no
God, then you have to believe that we evolved so that acting on a
delusion is physically healthier than acting on what should be a true
perception of the universe. If you are a hunter gatherer who falsely
perceives a living presence or thinks he is receiving communications
from an unseen being, you will waste a lot of time, energy and effort
trying to find or avoid that presence. But somehow this delusion was so
widespread and beneficial that it became the default setting of most
of humanity. Now add to that the fact that those mental illnesses
which result in people hallucinating beings or voices are invariably
destructive and disabling, not helpful as you often see in movies. So you have to either posit a unique form
of positive psychosis or that there may be something to this
perception of and communication with an unseen creator.
Now we cannot from these facts alone reason all the
way to Jesus Christ. That takes a detailed examination of the
documents and history surrounding him. But what you can do is
invalidate the assertion that there is no evidence for God. There is
the mathematical improbability of this specific universe existing,
the staggering fact that 11 or more constants in this universe are
fine-tuned to permit and even encourage the existence of life, and
the fact that being committed to worshiping God significantly
increases the odds of being mentally and physically a healthier human
being. To not believe there is a God means to believe that we are the
winners of a vastly improbable chain of events, but that to fully
benefit from this you must get this fact completely wrong and act as
if it was set up this way on purpose by an intelligent being. Atheism
is the equivalent of finding yourself in a nice sturdy house stocked
with everything you need for your physical and mental well-being and
believing that the arrangement of wood and nails and concrete and
plumbing are the result of a natural process and not the work of a builder. More importantly an
atheist must believe that the mind that tells him this is the result
of random biological mutations somehow shaped by environmental forces
and the need to survive and reproduce. And yet it is somehow able to
correctly discern and think about stuff that evolution never prepared
it for, like quantum physics, much less the question of
whether there is a God or not. Whereas all I have to believe is that
God created the universe and created us in his image, so that
understanding the products of the mind of God are possible. If you
hold to Occam's Razor, the principle that the simplest explanation
that covers all the facts is more likely the truth, it seems that
theism fits that principle better.
Delivering such arguments in a kind and loving manner is up to you. It really depends on the nature of the person you are talking to. A non-dogmatic atheist, one who is open to discussion, may be sincerely interested in discussing these things. But an emotionally-involved anti-theist, one who is enraged merely by the assertion that there is any evidence whatsoever for a position other than theirs, may not be amenable even to consider your arguments, regardless of how kindly you present them. I once saw Madelyn Murray O'Hair on a talk show where the host was going through the audience with a mic. When a priest stood up to ask a question, before he uttered a syllable, O'Hair unleashed a torrent of invective that went on for what seemed like a minute or so. Finally the priest turned to the host, said it didn't look like he would get to ask his question and to let others have a chance. Then he sat down. And I knew that, despite what she said about her rejection of God being based on intellectual grounds, she had a deep-seated emotional reason for her animus. And sure enough, when her surviving son, a Christian, came out with his memoir, his mother's early life was a sad tale of being unwanted and unloved from childhood.
If you get an emotional reaction all out of proportion to what and how you present these arguments, then the person is probably the victim of bad treatment by someone in a church. In which case, the Christian thing is not to continue to argue but to listen and show compassion. It's not about winning or scoring points; it's about reflecting the love of God in Christ.
I'd like to close with what Martin Luther King Jr. said on
the subject: “Science investigates; religion interprets. Science
gives man knowledge, which is power; religion gives man wisdom, which
is control. Science deals mainly with facts; religion deals mainly
with values. The two are not rivals.” Wisdom from a man of faith
who made the world better.