In part 1 of this series, I responded to a New Yorker article in which theoretical physicist Lawrence Krauss argued against science making the case for God. Krauss’ article was in response to author and TV host Eric Metaxas’ piece in the Wall Street Journal in which he argues that science does make the case for God. Now I want to address some of the issues raised by Metaxas’ article.
Before starting, it is worth noting that Metaxas’ article has a relatively small word count (~800 words) and most certainly a lay audience. Consequently, he did not use technically precise verbiage. However, some of the terminology Metaxas did use could cause negative reactions. My comments here are not a criticism of Metaxas. Instead, my hope is to help avoid some common snares associated with popularizing the often-contentious science-faith discussions.
Scientific Evidence Supports Belief in God…
First, Metaxas rightly points out the strong evidence that our universe appears finely tuned to support life on Earth. The persistent search for extraterrestrial life—and the persistent lack of evidence for it—indicates that life, at least of the advanced variety, might be rare in the universe. (I say indicates because scientists currently lack the capacity to truly determine if life exists outside our solar system unless that hypothetical life emits some recognizable signal toward Earth.) Over the last few decades, scientists have found numerous parameters that seem necessary to produce a “livable” universe, plus requirements for life’s origin on Earth and for life’s continued existence on Earth. Such findings make it scientifically reasonable and rational to believe that God created the universe and life.
…But Does Not Compel Belief
After delineating some of these fine-tuned parameters, Metaxas asks, “At what point is it fair to admit that science suggests we cannot be the result of random forces? Doesn’t assuming that an intelligence created these perfect conditions require far less faith than believing that a life-sustaining Earth just happened to beat the inconceivable odds to come into being?”
I support Metaxas’ basic premise. However, as a scientist, the phrasing of his questions triggers a negative response in me. Specifically, a cursory reading of the two questions sounds like science encounters situations that cannot be understood within the context of the laws of physics. Many scientists will hear these questions as a claim that science is inept to explain some phenomena so we should just give up and appeal to a deity. It’s understandable why scientists might react negatively to such an assertion. This cursory reading also reinforces the incorrect but popular narrative that scientific investigation and God’s activity in creation are opposed to one another.
We need to remember that throughout the development of the scientific enterprise, intractable problems ultimately turned into profound discoveries. Newton puzzled over the stability of planetary systems given the instability dictated by his understanding of gravitational interactions. Scientists now know what planetary systems remain stable (and for how long). The production of significant amounts of carbon in stars seemed impossible (though we knew it happened) until Hoyle discovered an unknown resonance that enhanced prior comprehension of the process. I could give countless other such examples.
As a group, scientists thrive and flourish in studying, researching, and solving these “intractable” problems. Furthermore, many of the solutions provide the strongest evidence of fine-tuning in the universe. For example, after Hoyle solved the problem of carbon production, he wrote, “A common sense interpretation of the facts suggests that a superintellect has monkeyed with physics, as well as with chemistry and biology.”1
A closer reading of Metaxas’ article reveals that he makes a more nuanced claim. Perhaps his questions might have been phrased: Doesn’t the abundant scientific evidence for cosmic fine-tuning point to the work of an intelligent Agent? As scientists understand the universe better and continue to accumulate evidence for fine-tuning, isn’t it reasonable to conclude that a caring Creator provides the best explanation for this growing body of evidence?
Finally, I would urge Metaxas and others to be cautious when using the term “random forces.” Such language conjures the idea of chaos and disorder, thus giving an inaccurate picture of how scientists view the situation. Krauss’ response specifically takes issue with the term, and rightfully so. All scientists, theist and atheist, see great order and regularity in the laws of physics. A significant number (like Krauss noted) see those laws driving systems toward producing life. That idea may be wrong, but the laws of physics certainly don’t seem random, chaotic, and disorderly. “Purposeless” or “undirected” might be better terms.
Metaxas advanced a case (one with which I agree) that the best scientific understanding affirms that the Christian faith is reasonable and rational. Some of his word choices, though, could erect barriers between Christians and those we aim to reach—individuals with an interest in science. As we better understand the language of science enthusiasts, we will be better equipped to help them engage the truly central questions: Who is Jesus Christ and how do you respond to Him?
- Fred Hoyle, “The Universe: Past and Present Reflections,” Engineering and Science 45 (November 1981): 8–12.