A numbers of years ago a girl told me about her younger brother. He had gone to his parents and said, ‘you know the way you told me about the tooth-fairy, and it was you; you told me about Santa and it was you; are you God?’
Professor Richard Dawkins suggests that belief in God is similar to belief in the tooth-fairy and Santa. It is merely a childish thing that should be left behind by people who are capable of evidence-based thinking. In 2003 he said, on BBC radio four’s Thought for the Day, humanity ‘can leave the cry-baby phase, and finally come of age.’
A man called Alister McGrath disagrees. He traces his belief in the opposite direction to that Dawkins suggests should be the case. He went from being an atheist to believing Christianity. Having gained a doctorate in molecular biology in Oxford, and intending to spend his life in scientific research, he changed direction and is now Professor of Historical Theology in Oxford. The American scientist Professor Francis Collins, director of the Human Genome Project, has received numerous awards and honours. He also went from an atheistic world-view to a Christian one.
In his debate with John Lennox, Richard Dawkins says that, ‘it has to be admitted that science grew out of a religious tradition.’ As one friend pointed out to me, ‘science arose in the West, shortly after the Reformation, when a Christian world-view was widely accepted—the reasoning seemed to be, if this world is made by God, and I am made by God, then my mind ought to be able to some extent to examine His world and discover something of its order and mechanism.’ It is interesting that probably the greatest scientist who ever lived, Sir Isaac Newton, said, ‘a little knowledge leads away from God, but much knowledge leads towards him.’
Science has its limits. To start with, science is limited to what we might call the material world. But God is not contained in the material world. The Bible says that God is spirit (John 4:24a). He is not found in physical form. This means that we can’t bring him into a laboratory and measure him. Science can’t prove that a non-material divine being doesn’t exist
Take the miracle of Jesus being raised from the dead. Each of the gospels says that the tomb was empty, and the Apostle Paul says that the risen Jesus appeared to more than five hundred people (1 Cor. 15:6). A scientist could observe that this does not normally happen. But only if the scientist makes the assumption that God does not exist and never does extra-ordinary things can it be said that this could not have happened. But science can’t prove that God does not exist. So if the New Testament is a reliable source (a topic for another occasion) there is no definitive reason for discounting its claims.
Science can not prove that God does not exist, but Christians believe that it does show God in action. We believe in a God who upholds and sustains creation. He is involved in every movement in the universe. Because the Bible clearly points to a God of order and faithfulness, rather than one of chaos, it comes as no surprise that science shows so many pictures of regular predictable action—what might be called the laws of nature.
John Polkinghorne was formerly Professor of Mathematical Physics at the University of Cambridge. He resigned his chair to become an Anglican minister. He believes that science compliments a belief in God, claiming that as scientists study the universe it becomes evident that there needed to be an intricate and delicate balance for the emergence of life. A balance that can’t just be attributed to chance!