IV. The hiddenness of God
Thus far, I hope I've demonstrated why there is no inherent conflict between science and religion. I've also suggested several ways in which science can point us towards belief in God rather than away from Him. But I don't want to stop there. I want to tackle another question which I think is often overlooked: why isn't the scientific evidence for God's existence clearer? Even if we think that there is very good scientific evidence that God exists (as I do), why isn't the scientific evidence for God's existence absolutely undeniable?
A. Why isn't there more scientific evidence?
First, remember that science is not the only means to truth. So it seems foolish to demand that definitive evidence for God's existence must be available through scientific arguments rather than through ethical or aesthetic or existential arguments. Second, it seems to me that there are many reasons to expect that God would not use science as the primary means in which He reveals Himself.
For instance, at what level of scientific progress should God's existence become clear? Given that modern science did not even exist until the 18th century, are we really suggesting that God should have left himself without a witness to humanity for millennia? That can't be right. And what about differences in scientific ability? Should God be accessible only to the elite few who have mastered molecular biology or quantum mechanics? Does God desire to be comprehensible only to people with PhDs or to all people? And what about all of the cultures today who have limited appreciation for science, who value art or tradition or experience over scientific knowledge? We may despise them as primitive and backwards, but God doesn't. If God desires to reach them, would he really limit his revelation only to science?
B. Why isn't there more evidence overall?
"Ok," you might say. "Perhaps God has reasons to reveal himself through more than just science. But that's still unfair. He still ought to give us more evidence. If God is omnipotent, he can do anything he wants. Why not write John 3:16 in mile-high letters on the moon that everyone can see, in every language in the world? Why not rearrange the stars in the Big Dipper to spell out 'God exists'? Why not teleport copies of the KJV Bible into the nightstand of every hotel room? (I guess the Gideon's beat him to it) Why doesn't God just give us some unmistakable sign from heaven so that we know he exists?"
Here, we need to take a harder look at the biblical doctrine of sin. Believe it or not, your intellectual objections and mine are not the ultimate reason for our unbelief. How can I convince you of that? Let's try a thought experiment. Imagine that when you go home tonight, you ask Jesus if he is God. So Jesus appears to you in your room in all of His glory in some undeniable way. He does miracles. He makes your laptop levitate. He shows you the nail prints in his hands. There is no doubt in your mind that He exists, that He is God, that He died on the cross, and that He rose from the dead. Now let's not ask whether you believe he exists; we've assumed for the moment that that question has been settled.
The question I want to ask is: how do you feel about Him? What if he says to you: "I want you to go to all of your friends and family tomorrow and tell them that you have seen me and that they have to repent and believe the good news so that they can be saved from hell and reconciled to me"? What if he says "As a Christian, you need to submit every part of your life to me: your career goals, sex, your friendships, how you spend your money, how you spend your time, what you do for entertainment. If I tell you to leave your job and go start an orphanage in India, you must go. I am more important than your family, your friends, even your own life. You have to lay it all down before me"?
Tell me honestly: doesn't that make you feel a little uncomfortable? I'll be honest: it makes me feel uncomfortable. Why? Because we're all sinners. There's a part of all of us that doesn't really want God to exist because we want to be in control of our own lives, to call our own shots, to decide what is good and bad for us, to answer to no one but ourselves.
What we're really saying is that there is a part of us that wants to be our own God. But if that's the case, then don't you see that evidence isn't really the ultimate issue? If we had all the evidence we needed to fully convince us intellectually, there would still be a heart problem that God needs to overcome. So why blame God for not providing enough evidence when more evidence is not what you really need?
But now you ought to be asking some important questions: if the fundamental problem is not our intellects but our hearts, then what do we do? Do we just sit around and hope that one day, our hearts will change? And if scientific evidence is not the primary means that God uses to reveal himself to us, where else should we look? And what if we're not very good at science or philosophy? God has one answer to all of these questions and it is the central message of Christianity: the gospel.
C. What do we do?
This is what the apostle Paul had to say about the gospel: "For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures." This is the central message of the Bible: not advice, but good news. It is the good news that Jesus Christ has come, God himself taking on human flesh, to live the life we ought to have lived, free from sin and evil and full of love and compassion. He came to die the death we deserve to die because we are all sinners, all rebels, shaking our fist at God and saying "I want to do it my way. I want to be my own god, my own master, my own savior. You can take a hike." Jesus died the death of a sinner and rebel suffering God's wrath in our place, to rise to life again three days later. He rose to life, conquering death on our behalf and reconciling us completely to God, so that we can be justified, declared to be completely innocent and righteous in God's sight. There is no more condemnation for those who trust in what Jesus did for us. And just like Jesus was raised to life, we are raised to a new life, given new hearts that do love God and do love other people, to pour ourselves out for God and for others. This is what God has done to rescue, to redeem, and to save us and fallen, evil, corrupt, hell-bound humanity. That's what the Bible says. It says: here is the message, here is the news of what God has done. Do you accept it? Will you repent and believe? Are you willing to commit your life to it?
Now, do you see how this message answers all of those questions? What if we're not very good at science or philosophy? What if we are uneducated and weak and despised and foolish? Listen to what the apostle Paul writes in another letter:"God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong." God is not known through education but through revelation. God reveals himself not to those who boast in their intellect, not to those who boast in how many degrees they have or in how good they are at understanding arguments from natural philosophy. God reveals himself to those who are humble enough to admit they need help.
What about the question of where we should look for God's ultimate revelation? Should we look in science or in art or philosophy? Where can we find God's ultimate revelation to humanity? The Christian answer to this question is completely unique among world religions: Christians claim that God's ultimate revelation to humanity is not found in science or in art or in philosophy, but in a person: in Jesus Christ. No one discipline can reach all people across all cultures across all history: not all cultures can respond to one particular branch of science, not all cultures can respond to one particular kind of art, not all cultures can respond to one particular kind of music. But all people, from all different cultures, from all different social and economic and political backgrounds can respond to a person. And God comes to us as a person and says: trust in me, follow me. If we want to know God, we don't start be looking at philosophical arguments or scientific arguments. We should start with the person of Jesus as he's described in the Bible.
And finally, if the fundamental problem is not in our head, but in our hearts, how can we change our hearts? We can't. But God can. We can't fix ourselves, but we can ask God to fix us. The heart of the gospel is a God who saves, who rescues, who breaks through to hearts that are hardened in sin, rebellious, angry, and evil and conquers them with his love, mercy, and grace. The gospel is not a message about how you can save yourselves; it is a message of what God has done to save you and a command for you to repent and believe it. The message of the gospel is "look and live." Look at Jesus suffering for our sin, dying, rising again, seated at God's right hand offering you forgiveness. Look to him and live. That is what God asks of us. Not to master some set of arguments, but to look and live.
If you're a non-Christian, I understand if your head is reeling. Maybe you're thinking "I don't buy any of this stuff." Maybe you have a lot of questions. Maybe you are still not convinced that science and Christianity are compatible. That's fine. Keep asking questions. Keep reading. Keep learning. But I want to point you to Jesus. Don't use science as a weapon to keep him at bay. He is trying to help you. Open up the gospels. Read about his life, read about his message, read about his death and read about his Resurrection. But be willing to lay your pride at his feet and follow where he leads you.
If you're a Christian, I hope I've convinced you that science and faith are not enemies. Because God is real, all of creation reveals his handiwork. Science enables us to appreciate God's wisdom and goodness and beauty and for that reason, it is a wonderful tool. But God cares much more about our devotion to Him than He cares about our intelligence, our knowledge, or our scientific ability. Remembering that fact will help us keep things in their proper place, neither elevating science above God or rejecting science as incompatible with God. Let me close with a quote from the original Rules and Precept of Harvard University, which in 1646 stated: "Let every Student be plainly instructed, and earnestly pressed to consider well, the maine end of his life and studies is, to know God and Jesus Christ which is eternal life (John 17:3) and therefore to lay Christ in the bottome, as the only foundation of all sound knowledge and Learning. And seeing the Lord only giveth wisedome, Let every one seriously set himself by prayer in secret to seeke it of him."
If anyone reading this essay has questions about it or about Christianity in general, feel free to e-mail me at Neil -AT- Shenvi.org. I also highly recommend the book The Reason for God by Tim Keller. It is phenomenal. Free sermons treating many of the topics covered by this book can be found here.