During the past few days, I have had several conversations with people regarding whether or not God has a place in science. To my dismay, many strong, Christian believers with a scientific bent are appalled at the idea of bringing God into science. They believe that if you include God in science, it will stop science from moving forward. Though this may sound far-fetched, this view is not entirely unwarranted. Unfortunately, many people do, in fact, use God to put a stop to science. My goal today, then, is to show how knowledge of God can be both used and abused within science.
One of the areas in which I do research is Intelligent Design, which includes the examination of signs of design within biology. While the technical limits of Intelligent Design theory do not demand that the designer be God, the idea of the intelligent design of life and God as the creator are philosophically connected. The first part of the process of showing that something signifies design is to show that it could not have arisen by purely natural means.
It is precisely at this point that many scientists object. As soon as they hear that, I get a litany of complaints:
“You can`t assign God to solve a gap in knowledge.”
“If we propose God every time we can’t figure something out, science will simply stop.”
“If we don’t let people pursue their scientific goals because we think God did something, we’ll be living in a theocracy.”
“Don’t you remember what happened to Galileo? Are you starting another inquisition?”
Now, all of these objections, if they were used at a legitimate target, would be true. No, we cannot just throw God in as an explanation every time we cannot figure something out. No, we should not prevent scientists from pursuing the ideas they believe to be true (though paying for them is a different question). Finally, inquisitions are bad and we should not have them.
I am sure there are misguided people in the world for whom these would be valid objections. The problem is that these complaints have become a knee-jerk reaction rather than a well-thought-out critique. So, before getting to my main point, let me first explain why Intelligent Design does not fall to these objections.
First of all, establishing that something could not have arisen by natural means is not the same thing as saying that we do not know how it came about. There must be positive evidence shown that something did not arise by natural means. It is always possible that such evidence turns out to be wrong—as with everything else in science, further evidence might overturn previous ideas. This is not unique to exclude design ideas. If it is possible that future evidence might cause us to think something is not designed that we used to think was designed, the reverse is also true. What this tells us is not that we should not use design in science, but rather any attempt to baptize science as equivalent with God’s truth is misguided. Science changes every day, and, whether our science is theistic or not, our understandings of the present, past, and future will be continually changing and even overturning.
So, it is not just that we do not know how something arose naturally, it is that we have evidence that it could not have. Second, we also must establish positive evidence that the cause was a designing cause. In other words, not only must it not have arisen naturally, it should have a logical pattern to it. For instance, if you come across a series of stones laid out to form the letters of a word, you would have evidence of design. First of all, it is highly unlikely for there to have been a physical cause to establish the shapes of letters. Secondly, a word is a logical pattern. So, the configuration is not physical but it is logical. Therefore, you are warranted in inferring design.
Now, examining signs of design in life is certainly a worthy goal in and of itself. However, there is an objection to it which is worth hearing. That is, let us say that the inference of design is correct in some particular case. Of what benefit is that to knowledge as a whole?
Think of it this way. When you learn math, you later apply it to balancing your checkbook. When you learn to balance your checkbook, you can apply that skill to running a business. Running a business might help you learn to run a school. Then, you might use your knowledge of running a school to help someone else learn math. So you see, any one piece of knowledge does not exist by itself, but is part of a larger web of knowledge. Any one piece of knowledge will lead you to so many others.
So, going back to the question of design—where can that take you, or is it just a point of termination? If the search for knowledge ends with the knowledge that something is designed, then in what way is it knowledge? Useful knowledge should fully participate in the web of knowledge and not exist merely as an item of trivia. So how can such ideas usefully contribute to the web of knowledge?
According to Proverbs 9:10, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom…” (NIV 1984) I want to highlight the word beginning. In other words, if we find evidence for God and then we stop, we have stopped at the beginning rather than at the end.
So, when we find that something is the result of God’s design, it is inappropriate to use that fact as a stopping point. Instead, it should be used as a starting point for further investigation. However, since we live in a culture based on materialism, we often get stuck here. How do you investigate God’s works? We know how to investigate nature, but we are pretty stumped when it comes to God. We are used to treating knowledge of God as so subjective that it is beyond investigation—and it is precisely the idea that the knowledge of God is considered subjective rather than objective which has caused Christianity to no longer be taken seriously in the public square.
As Christians, we must learn again to treat knowledge of God as real, objective, knowable truth. But in doing so, we must learn to ask different questions. It is true that when design is inferred, the old questions we were asking may not make sense anymore. But it should open up a new set of questions. For instance, instead of asking, “What was the sequence of physical events that led to the development of this structure?” you can ask, “What are the logical relationships which make this structure work? How do its purpose and its functionality interact? How does it fit functionally within the larger plan of the organism? How does it fit aesthetically within the larger plan of the organism? How does the structure interact morally with the plan of creation?”
We are not used to dealing with aesthetics, morality, or even logical plans as objective reality, but merely as byproducts of other “natural” causes. What we must do, instead, is to truly treat the fear of the Lord as the beginning of wisdom, and ask a whole new set of questions which the secular world no longer has the vocabulary or the imagination to even ask, much less answer.
Then, as the rest of the verse says, “…knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.”