Does science make the case for God, or not? It depends on whom you ask. Author and TV host Eric Metaxas argued the affirmative position in a recent (December 2014) Wall Street Journal piece.1 A month later in response to Metaxas’ article, the New Yorker published an opposite position2 from theoretical physicist Lawrence Krauss. Rather than weigh in with my perspective (I find science and the Christian faith to mutually reinforce one another), I want to draw some insight from each article in order to help engage the conversation more effectively. I’ll start by examining Krauss’ article, and in part two, I’ll address Metaxas’ original article.
Life Requires a Miracle
According to Krauss, Metaxas argues that “the appearance of life in the universe requires a miracle,” and given the “miraculous” conditions necessary for life, “we must have come from a miracle at the hand of God” Though he mischaracterizes Metaxas’ point, Krauss highlights an issue that I think Christians need to think about more deeply: how does God work in creation?
We tend to think of miracles as requiring a suspension of the laws of physics. Thus, if scientists find an explanation for some phenomena, then God must not have been involved. Such a position represents a weak theology of creation because the Bible often points to God’s use of the laws of physics to bring about miraculous ends.
Later in his article Krauss says, “Arguing that God exists because many cosmic mysteries remain is intellectually lazy in the extreme.” I could not agree more. If Christians appeal to the “miraculous” in areas where scientists lack understanding, two problems arise. First, the realm of God’s involvement in creation will steadily decrease over time as we continue to comprehend the universe more thoroughly. Second, when confronted with difficult-to-understand phenomena, an appeal to God’s hand brings scientific investigation to a grinding halt.
The Improbable Happens All the Time
Metaxas’ article delineates a number of circumstances necessary for life to exist in the universe and notes the improbability of them all occurring. Krauss for the most part grants that the probability of these events is small but disputes Metaxas’ claim that these low numbers point toward a God.
In his first main response to Metaxas’ article, Krauss highlights that almost anything that happens requires a highly improbable sequence of circumstances preceding it. While this point is technically true, for it to carry any weight two things must also be true. First, the event must be ordinary. For example, the odds of being dealt any five cards are roughly 1 in 2.6 million. However, a royal flush in spades beats any other poker hand. Getting dealt a royal flush in spades after a single deal is remarkable. Second, other avenues of achieving similar outcomes must exist. Only one way exists to get a royal flush in spades whereas numerous hands (1,098,240 to be exact) result in a single pair.
When Krauss points out in a strict fashion that everything is improbable, he assumes that human life is nothing special and that many different avenues could lead to something akin to humans. He speculates that, if not for the asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs 65 million years ago, “maybe giant intelligent reptiles would be arguing about the existence of God today.” He notes that many exoplanets as well as moons of Jupiter and Saturn may host possible life sites. Additionally, scientists continue to discover life in environments previously thought incapable of sustaining life. While fascinating discoveries, none of these advances currently demonstrate that alternate routes lead to intelligent life. Logic dictates that we rely on known data to support a position rather than use speculative future finds.
In his second main response to Metaxas’ article, Krauss argues that the physical processes that we understand now may drive life to form. Astronomers find complex precursors to life in space, and the geophysical and chemical environment on early Earth may support their production and build-up. Perhaps one day scientists will understand how life originates and will discover that it does not require anything beyond the laws of physics. However, given the data at hand today, one can rationally defend a position that the evidence points toward a Divine hand, but the data do not force you to do so.
Krauss rightly identifies some noticeable errors in Metaxas’ statements. For example, Metaxas states that a change in the ratio of the strength of the electromagnetic force to the strong nuclear force of even one part in 100,000,000,000,000,000 would prevent star formation, or cause the universe to not exist. My reading of the scientific literature puts the fine-tuning more on the order of a fraction of a percent for star formation, and who really knows what it would take to prevent formation of universes? I point out Metaxas’ errors because they can destroy credibility (as Krauss’ critique makes clear), and credibility is one of the most useful tools a Christian has in trying to persuade those skeptical of the Christian faith.
In reading Krauss’ piece, it seems most of his arguments center on disputing that science proves the existence of God or requires beyond-the-laws-of-physics miracles. Perhaps Christians should spend more time championing (and participating in) the pursuit of good science and articulating that strong, rational reasons exist for believing in the God of the Bible. In doing so, we would inevitably find the resources to develop arguments that would more persuasively show skeptics how the best findings of science can—and do—fit comfortably with the Christian faith.