The Destruction of the Gods - Has Science Made God Obsolete?

by Vern S. Poythress, Ph.D. , Professor of New Testament Interpretation, Westminster Theological Seminary

Science has now proven those gods to be false idols. Soon all Gods will be proven to be false idols. Science has now provided answers to almost every question man can ask.
--Maximilian Kohler, in Dan Brown, Angels and Demons.

Has science made God obsolete? Dan Brown's Maximilian Kohler argues that by giving rational explanations for the rising and setting of the sun, science has made the Greek god Helios dispensable. In every field, the growth of science pushes back the need to postulate the activities of gods. Kohler expresses what is on many people's minds in our day.

Ironically, the rise of science took place in the opposite direction from what Kohler depicts. Kohler suggests that science destroyed the gods. Actually, the destruction of the gods created an opening for science. How?

The polytheistic religion of Greeks said that there were many gods. There were as many divine plans and as many purposes as there were gods. Since the gods interacted in a chaotic fashion, people had no guarantee that the world would show any stable order. Greek religion discouraged any hope for a scientific exploration of a rational order.

Modern science arose in the context of Christian monotheism, which displaced the Greek gods and gave confidence to prospective scientists by means of three fundamental principles:

  1. One rational God rules all things (Genesis 1:1; Psalm 33:6), and so we can expect universal order.
  2. God made man in his image (Genesis 1:26-27), and so man is naturally in tune with God's mind and has hope of grasping the order that God had given.
  3. The world that God made is not divine, and hence is open for human investigation.

In fact, God's word is the foundation for scientific law. According to Genesis 1, God by speaking specified the regular order for the sun and moon and stars, and the regular pattern for the growth and reproduction of plants (Genesis 1:11, 14-15). What scientists call scientific law is in fact their guess about God's law, God's specification, "let it be so." Scientists in their investigation are in fact investigating the mind of God and thinking his thoughts after him--albeit on their limited, human level.

Early scientists like Copernicus and Isaac Newton understood that they stood before God's workmanship. The universe was

built for us by the Best and Most Orderly Workman of all.
How exceedingly fine is the godlike work of the Best and Greatest Artist. (Copernicus, The Revolution of the Heavenly Spheres)
He is eternal and infinite, omnipotent and omniscient; that is, his duration reaches from eternity to eternity; his presence from infinity to infinity; he governs all things ,and knows all things that are or can be done. ... And thus much concerning God; to discourse of whom from the appearances of things does certainly belong to Natural Philosophy. (Isaac Newton, Principia Mathematica, 440-442)

In fact, scientific law displays the attributes of God himself, such as omnipresence (the same in all places), immutability, immateriality, invisibility, transcendence (above the particular phenomena), immanence (touching on the particulars). This display confirms what is said in the Bible:

For his [God's] invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. (Romans 1:20)

Modern scientists sometimes evade this testimony to God by trying to think that the laws that they investigate are impersonal, a kind of mindless mechanism. This thinking is a form of idolatry, in that it replaces the true God with a substitute. Like all substitutes, it must be enough like the true God to fool people. (For example, it still supposedly guarantees order.)

But scientists still believe that the laws are fundamentally rational, and fundamentally language-like, so that they can be described in human language and thought through with human discourse. Rationality and complex language ability belong to persons, not to rocks and plants and worms. Scientists clearly rely on the personal character of law. At the same time, they claim that it is impersonal. It is a convenient claim, because we can thereby avoid moral responsibility to God who is personal. There are spiritual reasons why it is uncomfortable to acknowledge the truth, and why we want to evade it.

Christ came into the world. In that act, God became man, and came to reconcile us to himself. He himself overcame the barrier of our rebellion, which makes us want to evade the truth about the God who is the very foundation of law, and therefore the foundation of science.

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Further Reading

Vern S. Poythress, Redeeming Science: A God-Centered Approach. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2006. See especially chapter 1 on scientific law.

Nancy R. Pearcey and Charles B. Thaxton, The Soul of Science: Christian Faith and Natural Philosophy. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1994.

Stanley Jaki, The Origin of Science and the Science of its Origin. South Bend, IN: Regnery-Gateway, 1979.

Reijer Hooykaas, Religion ahd the Rise of Modern Science. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1972.

The quotes above from Copernicus and Isaac Newton are found in James Nickel, Mathematics: Is God Silent? (rev. ed.; Vallecito, CA: Ross House, 2001), 112, 127.

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