Monday, June 20, 2016

Scientists Ask--Is God Dead?

In 1966 there was a famous Time Magazine story asking “Is God Dead?" The thought of the death of God could have been interpreted in several ways. Did a pre-existent God cease to exist? More likely, the meaning of the title was captured by the thought that our culture had created no need for God. Science had answered many vexing questions related to our home planet. The universe’s age and expansion rate had been discovered with remarkable precision, due largely to Alan Sandage, the most influential astronomer of the last half century. Many of his findings were published not long before the Time article appeared. Science had matured and now addressed issues formerly reinforced primarily by natural theology.

In the immediate years before the article was published we had been apprised of a remarkable revelation of the structure of DNA, the template of genetics, followed shortly by news concerning how DNA’s digital code produces the thousands of proteins required for the building of eight million unique species. In our opening paragraph we referred to the precision of cosmologists concerning the age of the universe. The DNA discoveries left many bio-scientists feeling empowered with their newfound knowledge. Had God died? Time’s editors decided to pose the provocative question. There was little need for the Creator now that humanity had discovered some of His previously unrevealed secrets.

We had discovered a wealth of knowledge concerning the workings of the universe and the secrets of life on the planet. Owing to an explosion of scientific knowledge, in the popular mind God was no longer necessary in describing our universe or exulting in a Creator responsible for its existence. Effectively, therefore, the Time editors shocked the world by asking, “Is God Dead?”

The Time article was not explicitly focused on the secularization of science. There were many other cultural and theological changes discussed. On the 50th anniversary of the article, we point out that science has acquired even more cultural secularization. In 1966 science supposedly had reduced the need for religion to explain the natural world. My personal experience recalling the novel offerings in high school biology courses during the 1960s aids my recollection of a sea change in bio-science education of that time. The new BSCS biology courses achieved rapid elevation to prominence in secondary bio-science education. They stressed evolution as a scientifically endorsed belief. “Is God Dead?” our high school scholars may have asked. The question seemed significant as science provided detailed knowledge of genetics. 

Since 1966, the situation has worsened. God is less important today than at any time in recent memory. Creationism and Intelligent Design theories in Earth’s living things draw scorn, even among some Christian scientists and theologians. Various commentators such as Robert Mohler of Southern Baptist Seminary have stated that the “post-modern, post-Christian, post-Western cultural crises threaten the very heart of our culture.”

A friend recently called my attention to an article in American Thinker by Deanna Chadwell, professor at Pacific Bible College. We quote Ms. Chadwell’s blog “Science and Limits” as she discusses the impact of God having been removed from science. In former times, “Science…had once been the method by which curious people had learned about God’s creation. But the science we now have has forbidden God to have any part in experimental hypotheses. Even when the evidence clearly points heavenward, the presence of a creator cannot be considered.” For our current generation, science has suffered from displacement of God together with a wide array of cultural values. Whereas God could be credited with the order and design of our cosmos and life forms, now we credit materialistic naturalism. Methodological naturalism (MN) is the religion of most scientists, displacing God in any experimental hypothesis. Naturalistic explanations rule; theistic explanations are in retreat. This phenomenon parallels the withdrawal of most expressions of biblical theism in public life, not only in the domain of science.

Chadwell continues, “Yet science can explain very little, and that is disappointing to a generation of materialists. If all that is, is merely matter, then science should be able to answer all our questions. If there is no God, in the Judeo-Christian sense of the word, and no supernatural forces operate in this universe, then science should be able to formulate hypotheses, construct experiments, repeat those experiments with similar results and, either adjust the initial assumptions, or conclude they were correct to begin with. It should be doable. But it’s not.” 

The author of “Science and Limits” further exults in “some of the marvels of this world that science can address only in a shallow and mechanistic manner.” We offer a quick catalog highlighting the author’s thoughtful musings: Hummingbirds are specifically designed so as to make random mutation appear to be a silly explanation. They vary their metabolic rate drastically, rotate their wings in a helicopter hover, and retract their long insect-seeking tongue into a channel that winds around its skull. Owls fly in almost absolute silence, but science cannot explain how it got that way. No one knows what goes on in the chrysalis soup of a butterfly, let alone how four stage metamorphosis works to produce the ultimate wonder of an adult. Migration skills guide animals, sans GPS or map directions, on multi-thousand mile travel sagas to locate their destinations with pinpoint accuracy. Monarchs accomplish this feat without having traveled the route in several generations. What about the mystery of life itself? How do the presence of brain waves with electrical impulses distinguish a live creature from one that is not alive? What is the “ethereal self?” What is the nature of a living human soul? How does science explain mysteries of the hard sciences such as the incredible fine tuning of hundreds of physical constants?

Many scientists have succeeded in shutting out the awareness of God in professional science discoveries. When science succeeds in explaining the many mechanisms by which our earth’s physical and biological systems operate, they inadvertently call attention to the God who authored the systems. Many systems, however, have not yet been explained by science. We anticipate a future day when science professionals may conclude that methodological naturalism is inadequate to explain many phenomena. Rather, they may recognize God as an explanatory controlling force for phenomena they are able to explain as well as phenomena they are unable to explain. God is supernatural but he has power to author and sustain natural events.

In the closing paragraph of “Science and Limits” Chadwell noted, “God is not dead, but mankind is getting good at shutting Him out of all of our understandings.”