Why I believe that God is real and worthy to be trusted
I Believe in God. I believe in the supernatural God who created the heavens and the earth. I believe in a God who holds the heavens of the Earth in existence. I believe that on the basis of rational evidence. And as we look at the rise of science in the 16th and 17th centuries, Alfred North Whitehead and many others commented that men became scientific because they expected law in nature, and they expected law in nature because they believed in the law giver.
So ladies and gentlemen, I’m not ashamed of being both a scientist and a Christian because, arguably, Christianity gave me my subject. What I am amazed at, is that serious thinkers today continue to ask us to choose between God and science. That’s like asking people to choose between Henry Ford and engineering as an explanation of the motor car.
When Newton discovered his law of gravity he didn’t say I’ve got a law; I don’t need God – no – he wrote The Principia Mathematica, arguably the greatest work in the whole history of science. Because he saw that God is not the same kind of explanation as a scientific explanation.
God doesn’t compete. Agency does not compete with mechanism and law. Why is there something rather than nothing? Allan Sandage, the brilliant cosmologist who became a Christian in his 50’s said, ”God is the answer to that question” but people are now so desperate to show that the universe created itself from nothing, which seems to me to be an immediate oxymoron. If I say x created y, I’m assuming the existence of x to explain the existence of y. If I say x created x, I’m assuming the existence of x to explain the existence of x, which simply shows that nonsense remains nonsense even if high-powered scientists utter it.
Reminds me a little bit of GK Chesterton who said, “it is observed to complain that it is unthinkable for an unthinkable God to make everything out of nothing, and then to pretend that it is more thinkable that nothing should turn itself into everything.”
“The heavens declare the glory of God,” says the ancient psalm, and we’ve unraveled a bit of that, seeing the fine-tuning of the fundamental forces of nature. It’s something that is so striking to scientists that it demands explanation. And it seems to me that Arno Penzias had it right (he is the Nobel Prize winner who discovered the microwave background on which a lot of the evidence for the big-bangers based) he said “astronomy leads us to a unique event: a universe which was created out of nothing, one with the very delicate balance needed to provide exactly the right conditions required to permit life, and one which has an underlying, one might say supernatural, plan.
But I want to come to what I think is one of the fundamental arguments for theism.
I take it this house believes in reason – that’s why we’re all here. And as a scientist I believe that the universe is rationally intelligible. That is something that has struck some of the geniuses of science as demanding an explanation. Einstein said the only incomprehensible thing about the universe is that it’s comprehensible. And Vigner talked about the unreasonable effectiveness of Mathematics.
How is it that a mathematician thinking in her head in here, can come up with equations that seem to fit the universe out there. Well how is it indeed? Because the irony of the Atheist position here is evident. My atheist friends, and I have many of them, tell me that the driving force of evolution which eventually produced our human cognitive faculties (reason included) was not primarily concerned with truth at all, but with survival – and we all know, ladies and gentlemen, what is often happened and still happens to truth when individuals or commercial enterprises or nations feel themselves threatened and struggle for survival.
Leading philosopher Alvin Plantinga of Notre Dame says, “if atheists are right that we are the product of mindless unguided natural processes, then they have given a strong reason to doubt the reliability of human cognitive faculties and therefore inevitably to doubt the validity of any belief that they produce – including their atheism, their biology, and their belief in naturalism – would therefore appear to be at war with each other in a conflict that is nothing at all to do with God.”
Yet my atheist friends still insist that it is rational for them to believe that the evolution of human reason was not directed for the purpose of discovering truth – and yet – it is irrational for me to believe that human reason was designed and created by God, to enable us to understand and believe the truth.
Curious logic. They contrast with that, biblical theism asserts that ultimate reality is personal and intelligent and the reason science works – and this was the motivating force that drove the great pioneers of science – is that the universe out there, and the human mind in here that does the science, are ultimately the product of the same intelligent divine mind. Human beings are made (we are told) in God’s image and that means that science can be done. That makes infinitely more sense to me as a scientist than atheism does.
Well, let me come briefly to ethics. Ethical behavior, like rational behavior, of course does not itself require religious belief. This is consistent with the fact that humans are created in God’s image as rational moral persons. But just as I suggest that rationality cannot be explained without the existence of God, so I dare to suggest that the existence of morality cannot be explained either.
As modern science sprang from Judeo-Christian sources, so did the concept of human equality.
Listen to atheist Jurgen Habermas, arguably one of Germany’s leading intellectuals… he said that universalistic egalitarianism for which sprang the ideals of freedom and our collective life and solidarity the individual morality of conscience, human rights, and democracy is the direct legacy of the Judaic ethic of Justice and the Christian ethic of love. This legacy, substantially unchanged, has been the object of continual critical appropriation, reinterpretation – to this day there’s no alternative to it. Everything else is just idle post-modern talk. And it seems to me he’s hitting the core of something important. Because the value of a human being on which its egalitarianism rests, is based not on what the human being can do but what she’s made of – what our house – she’s made in God’s image.
I never forget speaking on one of my many visits to Russia to our colleague in the Academy of Sciences. And he said, “you know John, we thought we could abolish God and retain a value for human beings. We found we couldn’t and we’ve murdered millions of them”. And Alexander Solzhenitsyn has said, “if I’m asked why is it that 60 million of my fellow countrymen were sacrificed,” he said, “the answer is – we have forgotten God”.
Science of course, marvelous as it is, is limited. Even a Nobel Prize winner by analyzing a cake, cannot tell why it was made. But Aunt Matilda who made it can tell you. She can reveal it to you. But if she doesn’t reveal it to you, you’ll never know.
And that brings me to be my next evidence. It’s the same with the universe. We can analyze it magnificently, but ultimately, if it has a maker (and I believe it has) only he can tell us what it’s all about – and he’s done so in the powerful narrative of the Bible. In particular in its analysis of the problem with humanity not simply in terms of behavioral breakdown between people, but a vertical breakdown of trust between us and the Creator.
The unique solution to that problem is not simply in terms of human ethical development (although that’s very important) but in terms of something far deeper altogether: the restoration of the fractured relationship with God through the salvation he has brought through Jesus Christ. A radical relationship that empowers us to live ethically from God. And here we reach what, for me, is a chief evidence; not only for the existence, but the nature of God. It is Jesus Christ. He it was that not only taught the golden rule but embodied it: fed the hungry, healed the sick and suffering, and welcomed society’s outcasts, brought honor and respect to the marginalized of their shame, and he’s brought forgiveness and peace to multi-millions around the world. He’s able to do this of course, because though he was a man, he uniquely never was only a man, but God become human.
The central evidence for this startling claim is of course his historical Resurrection from the dead that launched Christianity in the world. This is of course, ladies and gentlemen, a crunch issue. If Jesus rose from the dead, death is not the end and atheism is false. If Jesus did not rise from the dead Christianity is false. And I remember at Cambridge as a student listening to the brilliant Sir Norman Anderson, a legal expert, going through forensically the evidence from his legal perspective as a brilliant lawyer. And he said at the end of it, “the empty tomb then of Jesus forms a veritable rock on which all rationalistic theories of the Resurrection dash themselves in vain.”
Just finally now, as I read the Bible, I do not only find intellectual satisfaction, but I find a great deal of that, I sense the voice of God speaking to me. You said that’s intensely personal. But ladies and gentlemen we’ve been asked tonight about belief in God. And I want to strongly emphasize that God is not a theory He’s a person. And if the origination of me qua person is a personal God then the most exciting thing really is – is there a possibility of getting to know God?
And so I don’t simply believe there is a God; I’ve come to know him and trust him. And I have strong reasons for doing so because of Christ dying and rising again for me and that has generated in me a sense of utterly unmerited forgiveness, acceptance and peace. That has enabled me to face the ugly side of my own nature, and with God’s help to do something about it, but it’s enabled me to face something else.
The hardest problem I face as a Christian is the problem of evil and pain.
My niece got a tumor at 22 that killed her. What do I say to my sister? And this is the hardest problem we face. But it seems to me that atheism here has no answer. Because by definition, atheism believes that human death is the end, so there is no ultimate hope. But you see ladies and gentlemen we could stay here till midnight and beyond, arguing as has been done in this university for centuries, what a good God should, might, would, could, if not possibly, might, just, could he not have, done and we’ll get nowhere.
So it seems to me there’s another question we can ask, and it’s this: granted that life presents us with a double picture, we see some beautiful things: we see some ragged edges, we see hurt and pain, and we see joy. How can we come to terms with that. And it seems to me here is no simplistic answer but a window into an answer and it’s this. If it is actually true that Jesus is as I believe him to be the son of God then we can ask the question ‘what is God doing on a cross?’
And the answer comes back, at the very least, God does not remain distant from our human suffering, but has become part of it. And the other side of that is this: because Jesus rose from the dead, he is going to be the ultimate judge. Now here’s an irony – because atheism has no ultimate hope of justice by definition – the vast majority of people in the history of the world have died without justice and will die without justice. And if death is the end, then of course they have no hope of Ultimate Justice but the Promise in the New Testament guaranteed by The Resurrection of Jesus is that he is to be the judge in the coming day.
So ladies and gentlemen, those are some of the reasons why I believe that God is real and worthy to be trusted.
- presented by Oxford Mathematician