The other day I was browsing through an old New Scientist magazine (March 2009) and came across an interview with Stephen Hawking and his daughter, Lucy Hawking. Together they have been writing children's books to introduce children to such scientific questions as
- What happened at the Big Bang?
- What happens inside a Black Hole?, and
- Is any body out there?
In the interview, prompted by a comment about bible-reading being part of Hawking (senior)'s childhood, the interviewer says,
"One thought I had on religion as I read George's Cosmic Treasure Hunt is that the big questions of physics seem to be supplanting the big religious questions."
And the response is,
"Science is increasingly answering questions that used to be the province of religion. The one remaining area that religion can still lay a claim to is the origin of the universe, but even here science is making progress, and should soon provide a definitive answer to how the universe began."
The view of God expressed here is "the God of gaps". Very simply that means that God explains the otherwise unexplainable. God fills up the gaps in our knowledge. We don't know how lightning occurs: God does it. We don't know how the world was made: God must've done it. We don't understand how a baby is formed in the womb: God is responsible. We don't know how it is that a bee finds flowers: God must direct it.
With this way of thinking about God, as soon as we have another explanation for these phenomena, God gets a little bit smaller. And so now we know about the electric potential that causes lightning to strike, and so God gets a little bit smaller. We know how a baby grows in the womb; and God decreases a little bit more. We know how a bee finds flowers (that is, entymologists might, but I don't) so again God grows little bit smaller and a more insignficant. And when our physicists will finally be able to explain how the universe began, God will vanish entirely.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote;
"...how wrong it is to use God as a stop-gap for the incompleteness of our knowledge. If in fact the frontiers of knowledge are being pushed further and further back (and that is bound to be the case), then God is being pushed back with them, and is therefore continually in retreat. We are to find God in what we know, not in what we don't know."*
'We are to find God in what we know, not in what we don't know.' This is helpful, I think, on two points.
First of all, our discoveries about how things work don't have eliminate God from the equation but help us to know and understand the creator better. As a student of science at University I found this to be the case over and over again. My study of the world around me and particularly the microscopic world continually caused me to praise his magnificance, not doubt his existence. Just because I know which molecules join together in which order to form a growing protein doesn't mean that God's mind is not behind it and his hand is not upon it.
The heavens declare the glory of God,and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. (Psalm 19:1)
Second of all, and more importantly we know God because he has made himself known to us. He has revealed himself to us;
"Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world." (Hebrews 1:1-2)
Really, it doesn't matter how far back the frontiers of science go, we know about God through his word and the word, his Son, Jesus Christ, who perfectly reveals the father to us.
Lastly, the questions that religion deals with are far greater and significant that the questions that science is fit to consider. What is the purpose of man in the world? How can he know God? What can be done about evil? How can man get on with his neighbour? The belief that science does away with religion is often nothing else that attempt to silence the voice of God in his world.
* Bonhoeffer quote cited here.