Taking God Out of the Equation
When science rejected nature’s Creator
If I have been allured into brashness by the wonderful beauty of thy works, or if I have loved my own glory among men, while advancing in work destined for thy glory, gently and mercifully pardon me.”1
This humble prayer did not come from a pastor or an evangelist. It came from sixteenth-century scholar Johannes Kepler, one of the most important founders of modern science.2 Kepler’s meticulous work revealed that the planets do not rotate around the sun in a circle but in an ellipse. His three laws of planetary motion have remained essentially intact to this day.
Originally Kepler had aspired to become a minister, but ended up specializing in mathematics, astronomy, and astrology. Holding deep religious convictions, many favoring Lutheranism, he lost his position at the burgeoning University of Graz, Austria, when he refused to convert to Catholicism.
This happened more than 400 years ago. At that time intellectual giants such as Boyle, Galileo, Pascal, Linnaeus, and Isaac Newton were laying the foundations of modern science. Almost all scientists of that period believed in a God who was active in nature. They saw no conflict between God and science, since God had created the laws of nature that made the study of science possible. These scientific icons illustrate how science and religion can work together in harmony.
Newton was a diligent student of Scripture and wrote extensively about the prophecies in Daniel and Revelation. His crowning work, the three-volume Principia, dealing mainly with astronomy and gravity, introduced unprecedented mathematical rigor to science. Its publication is considered by some to be “perhaps the greatest event in the history of science—certainly the greatest till recent years.”3 In Principia, Newton comments that “this most beautiful system of the sun, planets, and comets could only proceed from the counsel and dominance of an intelligent and powerful Being.”4 Modern science developed within an atmosphere that very much acknowledged the Bible as authoritative and God as the Creator. Furthermore, the astonishing Genesis flood was considered a major factor in the geologic history of the earth.
Do Not Enter
At present, science has an entirely different outlook. God as an active agent in nature is virtually excluded from scientific articles and textbooks. A theistic outlook has been replaced by a materialistic one, essentially limiting reality to just matter. In the words of renowned Harvard geneticist Richard Lewontin, “we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door.”5 At present, as far as God is concerned, science has posted a DO NOT ENTER sign. Science must be free of the fetters of religion. A scientist who tries to suggest God’s activity in nature is likely to be repudiated by the leaders of the scientific community, and can easily lose employment. When and how did this major philosophical shift in science take place?
The seventeenth and eighteenth centuries were a time of great intellectual turmoil in the Western world, including the end of the Reformation, the liberating so-called Enlightenment, and ending with the devastating French Revolution. Through that tumultuous period, with few exceptions, scientists maintained a strong belief in God as the Creator, and a persistent belief in the biblical flood.
The scientific ethos relating to God started changing a little before the beginning of the nineteenth century as some geologists and paleontologists suggested long, slow geological changes that would take much longer than the few thousand years since creation, as indicated in Scripture. Furthermore, finding very different kinds of fossils at different levels, and postulating vastly different ages for these levels, negated the possibility that God created all the main kinds of organisms during a brief six-day creation week as He states He did (Ex. 20:11). The worldwide Genesis flood, which gradually buried the varied pre-Flood landscapes, is the event that reconciles the fossil sequence to creation week.6 Introducing long ages through the fossil record negates the biblical model of origins.
In England, geologists, who had strongly endorsed some kind of worldwide flood, changed their views. One of these was the famous Reverend Adam Sedgwick, who was Charles Darwin’s professor of geology at Cambridge University. However, later, when Darwin came out with his Origin of Species, Sedgwick would not endorse his evolutionary views, and surprisingly, he even challenged some of Darwin’s long ages interpretations. Sedgwick argued that there was a lack of evidence for aging at the widespread uneroded flat gaps, where lots of time was assumed between some of the geologic layers. These flat time gaps, which are found all over the world, provide rather strong evidence in favor of the Genesis flood.7 Turbulence of interpretations in both geology and biology dominated at that time.
One of the greatest sensations of usually placid and prosperous Victorian England occurred in 1844, with the anonymous (it was Robert Chambers) publication of Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation. The book became an instant best seller, commonly discussed in public meetings and the press. In England alone it went through 14 editions, and became even more popular in the United States.
The book strongly promoted a materialistic, nonbiblical view of beginnings, suggesting gradual progress for the universe and for the evolution of life. It was highly controversial. Some admired and loved it, some banned it, preachers denounced it as blasphemy, and some leading scientists considered it to be pseudoscience. However, it prepared public opinion for the acceptance of Charles Darwin’s less popular when first published, but eventually more renowned, Origin of Species.
Of course, 1844 is also the date of the Great Disappointment, which led to the founding of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Its distinctive Sabbath observance is based on God’s six-day creation, and thus challenges all ideas that life developed gradually over long geologic ages. With good reasons it has been suggested that “it was no happenstance”8 that the Seventh-day Adventist Church, with its Sabbath message of creation, came into existence at the same time that Western thought was abandoning the seminal concept of God’s authority as the Creator.
Leading scientists no longer wanted to have anything to do with religion.
Darwin’s famous On the Origin of Species was published in 1859. In it Darwin proposed that the combination of small changes and the survival of the fittest is a suitable mechanism for the evolution of organisms from amoeba to man. This principle works for little modifications (microevolution), but runs into deep scientific problems when trying to evolve any significant degree of complexity, such as evolving the interdependent parts of an eye or a brain.9 However, the book served as a more scholarly attempt to explain evolution than Vestiges, and provided significant impetus to the developing secularization of Western thought. Reaction among both the general public and scientists was at first mixed, but later it progressively gained broad acceptance.
It was in the decades that followed the publication of Origin of Species that God was excluded and science became fully secularized. Respect for science grew as fascinating worldwide biological, fossil, and geological discoveries were made. Science was becoming an independent and powerful profession. Young secular scientists became the leaders of scientific societies as they replaced the older ecclesiastical guard.
These new revisionists strongly advocated the superiority of science over other methods of inquiry. Famed physicist John Tyndall, who had published a dozen science textbooks, successfully irritated many by declaring in his 1874 address to the British Association for the Advancement of Science that men of science “shall wrest from theology the entire domain of cosmological theory. All schemes and systems, which thus infringe upon the domain of science must, insofar as they do this, submit to its control and relinquish all thought of controlling it.”10 He later apologized for this statement that well illustrated the exuberance of the scientific community. Leading scientists no longer wanted to have anything to do with religion.
Biologist Thomas Huxley, who valiantly defended the new liberating ethos and was at times called “Darwin’s bulldog,” warned that one could not be “both a true son of the church and a loyal soldier of science.”11 This limiting qualifier would eliminate the earlier pioneers of modern science, such as Newton and Kepler, from the community of scientists! The assumed superiority and exclusiveness of science quickly spread through the Western world, with Germany and the United States also taking leading roles. This major shift in the philosophy of science, from including God to materialism, has remained dominant to the present.
It seems strange that science, which claims to be seeking for truth about nature, should start limiting its outlook by excluding God from the explanatory menu. This is no way to find truth in case God exists! Why reduce one’s horizon of possibilities if one is looking for reality? The rejection of God by science restricts academic freedom and makes little rational sense. Science often speculates about all kinds of really wild ideas. However, when it comes to including a Creator God in the equation, that kind of speculation is categorically rejected in normative scientific literature. This is in spite of the fact that two fifths of scientists believe in a God who answers prayers, and more than half believe in God or a deity!12
Furthermore, many recent discoveries by science make the case for a Designer God all the more necessary.13 Highly significant among these is the extreme precision necessary for the four basic forces of physics, in order to provide a universe capable of sustaining life.
Equally baffling is the question of how life could arise all by itself. The simplest forms of life are extremely complex. How did all the many right kinds of organic molecules, such as DNA and its huge load of information, ever come to be? Also, how did hundreds of thousands of these delicate molecules come together at the same time and same place so as to produce the first living cell that had to be capable of reproduction if it was going to establish life on an empty earth? Likely God would not have been rejected by science in the nineteenth century if all these details had been known then.
The plain facts of scientific observation are worthy of respect, and science has been highly successful in that area, but reality is more complicated. What about factors such as our consciousness, i.e., the feeling that we exist, our sense of purpose, our free will, morality, reason, religion, love and hate, creativity, art, and music? A lot of the meaning of life is not found in simplistic materialism—hence, there is good reason to look beyond.
The Bible believer should not be surprised at the shift in scientific thinking that took place in the nineteenth century. Second Peter 3:3-6 contains the remarkable prediction indicating that in the last days scoffers would be willingly ignorant that God created by His word, and that the world was overflowed with water. In the scientific worldview evolution has replaced divine creation; long geological ages have taken the place of the Genesis flood. Peter could have predicted hundreds of other ideas that would be willingly ignored in the last days. That he picked these two salient changes of nineteenth-century science clearly indicates that the Bible is no ordinary book. It is the Word of God, and we can have confidence in its account of beginnings.
Science reduced its explanatory capabilities in the nineteenth century, as it adopted a simple materialistic outlook. Evolution of organisms from simple to complex was the best model it could come up with, but a workable model for the evolution of complex systems has yet to be proposed.14
The Bible has a broader outlook. It points to both nature and revelation, and it asks us to prove all things.(Ps. 19:1; Rom. 1:20; 2 Tim. 2:15; 1 Thess. 5:21). In the context of searching and finding truth, the Bible is worthy of greater respect.
- Quoted in O. Gingerich, “Dare a Scientist Believe in Design?” Bulletin of the Boston Theological Institute 3, no. 2 (2004): 4, 5.
- At that time those who studied the natural world were called natural philosophers or natural historians, but they are now called scientists, a term that originated in 1834 but is now generally used to designate all those from antiquity to the present who study nature.
- W. C. Dampier, A History of Science (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1954), p. 154.
- I. Newton, Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy and His System of the World (Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press, reprinted 1934), p. 544.
- R. Lewontin, “Billions and Billions of Demons,” New York Review of Books 44, no. 1 (1997): 28-32.
- For further elaboration, see discussions 11 and 14 on the author’s Web page: www.sciencesandscriptures.com, and A. A. Roth, Origins: Linking Science and Scripture (Hagerstown, Md.: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1998), chap. 10.
- A. A. Roth, “Flat Gaps in the Sedimentary Rock Layers Challenge Long Geologic Ages,” Journal of Creation 23, no. 2 (2009): 76-81.
- R. H. Pierson, “It Was No Happenstance,” Review and Herald, May 10, 1973, p. 2.
- E.g., M. J. Behe, The Edge of Evolution (New York: Free Press/Simon and Schuster, 2007).
- As quoted in F. M. Turner, “The Victorian Conflict Between Science and Religion: A Professional Dimension,” Isis 69 (1978): 356-376.
- T. H. Huxley, Darwiniana: Essays (New York: D. Appleton and Co., 1893), p. 149.
- E. J. Larson and L. Witham, “Scientists Are Still Keeping the Faith,” Nature 386 (1997): 435, 436; Pew Research, Religion and Public Life Project: www.pewform.org/2009/11/05/scientists-and-belief/.
- A. A. Roth, Science Discovers God (Hagerstown, Md.: Autum House, 2008).
- E.g., A. Gauger et al., Science and Human Origins (Seattle: Discovery Institute Press, 2012), pp. 15-43; J. C. Sanford, Genetic Entropy and the Mystery of the Genome (Waterloo, N.Y.: FMS Publications, 2008).