The Wisdom Of Fools
Professing to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man—and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things.Romans 1:22-23
As I was recently responding to a comment about science, I made the statement that as a general rule, modern science has adopted a philosophy of materialism which posits that the physical material universe is all that exists and thus rejects the notion of the transcendent or supernatural altogether. Materialism is a worldview. In other words, it is a belief, not a conclusion of science. Since science is necessarily limited to the study of natural, physical processes, it is ill equipped to deal with the subject of the supernatural. Anyone who professes to be an atheist cannot legitimately do so on a purely scientific basis, since science in the truest sense can make no claim on anything beyond the observable, physical world.
In recent times, we have heard some very condescending statements made by some who embrace a worldview of scientific materialism, particularly from the group known as the “new atheists” and others, about the absurdity of belief in a personal God or creator. Often, these statements are not only condescending but even caustic and hostile. It would seem that these esteemed men of the academy have forgotten the contribution that men of faith made to the scientific revolution. Men such as Newton, Kepler, and Galileo, just to name just a few, were men of faith whose belief in God impelled them to investigate the created order that through their discoveries they may come to better understand not only what God had created but to have greater insight into the mind of the creator Himself. As C.S. Lewis put it so succinctly, “Men became scientific because they expected Law in Nature, and they expected Law in Nature because they believed in a Law Giver.”
It was not in spite of his faith, but because of it, that Newton, for example, pursued his research into the physical universe, as he himself said in the introduction to his most famous work, the Principia: “This most beautiful system of the sun, planets and comets, could only proceed from the counsel and dominion of an intelligent and powerful Being.” Newton’s contributions to science, along with that of the other pioneers I named, is universally acknowledged, and yet the role their faith played in motivating their discoveries is seldom acknowledged, despite the fact that it is well documented by their own words.
This omission regarding the Christian motivations of these great pioneers of science might be forgiven were it merely a matter of benign ignorance, but this is not so. The hostility of these popularizers of scientism (the belief that science alone is the only sound basis to determine epistemological values) demonstrates a stridency that borders on religious zeal and, as is often the case with zealots, the search for truth is not so much the aim as is the promotion of an ideology. Fortunately, this devotion to a materialistic narrative is not universal in the academy. Recently, some very noted scientists and philosophers who have objectively looked at the evidence have come away with a much more honest appraisal and even reversed their previously held positions of materialism.
For example, philosopher Anthony Flew, once a strident atheist himself and one of the signatories of the Humanist Manifesto III, changed his position when confronted with the evidence from both cosmology and biology. His own words on the matter are most enlightening:
“There were two factors in particular that were decisive. One was my growing empathy with the insight of Einstein and other noted scientists that there had to be an Intelligence behind the integrated complexity of the physical Universe. The second was my own insight that the integrated complexity of life itself – which is far more complex than the physical Universe – can only be explained in terms of an Intelligent Source. I believe that the origin of life and reproduction simply cannot be explained from a biological standpoint despite numerous efforts to do so. With every passing year, the more that was discovered about the richness and inherent intelligence of life, the less it seemed likely that a chemical soup could magically generate the genetic code.”
Flew’s statements, though no doubt surprising to his colleagues, were the deductions of a rigorous academic honestly looking at the evidence and following it to its logical conclusion. Such intellectual honesty, while rare in the academy at any time, would almost seem to be non-existent today. Long-held conclusions which have made their way into the collective consciousness of any group die hard, and it often takes some crisis moment or incontrovertible evidence to bring about such change. For example, when Albert Einstein’s theory of General Relativity inferred a dynamic universe (one that had a beginning in the distant past), rather than the static and eternal model scientists had grown comfortable with, it was met with enormous resistance. Einstein himself resisted the conclusions of his own theory and added a “fudge factor” to justify his belief in a static and eternal universe. He wasn’t alone in his reluctance to follow the evidence. The man who helped to confirm Einstein’s theory of General Relativity also expressed his distaste of the very idea of a cosmic beginning. British astrophysicist Sir Arthur Eddington, whose observations regarding the bending of light from distant stars by the gravity of our sun helped to confirmed Einstein’s theory, said, “Philosophically, the notion of a beginning of the present order is repugnant to me…I should like to find a genuine loophole.” Even Eddington had to make his protest on the basis of his philosophical preference (his worldview), since the scientific evidence witnessed to the contrary.
Flew is not the only recent man of the academy to reverse his opinion on the existence of an intelligence behind the universe or the origins of life. Dean Kenyon, Professor Emeritus of Biology at San Francisco State University and author of one of the premier textbooks on the origin and evolution of living systems by way of purely natural processes, later repudiated the findings of his own book and became a committed believer. He said:
“It is my conviction that if any professional biologist will take adequate time to examine carefully the assumptions upon which the macro-evolution doctrine rests, and the observational and laboratory evidence that bears on the problem of origins, he/she will conclude that there are substantial reasons for doubting the truth of this doctrine. Moreover, I believe that a scientifically sound creationist view of origins is not only possible, but it is to be preferred over the evolutionary one.”
These are men whose work and reputations had been built on opinions very different to these they later espoused, and yet their intellectual, philosophical, and scientific integrity made them come to grips with the truth. The scriptures themselves tell us that the creation declares the truth about the existence of preeminence of God (see Psalm 19:1-4 & Romans 1:20). It has been said that God gave us two books: the book of scripture (special revelation) and the book of Nature (general revelation). The revelation of God in nature, or Natural Theology, is enough to make man accountable for an understanding of God’s existence, and Paul tells us that it is the suppression of the truth rather than an ignorance of it that keeps men from acknowledging God as creator and Lord.
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, (Romans 1:18-20)
So, both from the minds of noted scientists and philosophers as well as the testimony of scripture, we see that the knowledge one gains from a look at the natural world does not point one away from the existence of a transcendent creator but toward an awareness of His reality. There are Nobel Laureates of Science who believe in God and others who deny His existence. Both in the past and now, there are men whose work in the field of the sciences has served to affirm their faith while others profess that their faith in God has been displaced by a materialistic worldview by virtue of their observations of the natural world. What does this mean? Simply that our underlying philosophical assumptions often determine how we interpret the evidence and lead us to our conclusions rather than the evidence itself. God in His Word tells us where the evidence points. In fact, He says it is persuasive enough that He will hold men accountable because of the certainty that the natural world offers regarding His existence.
Twice in the Psalms we are told, “The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God.’” (Psalm 14:1; 53:1). Those are strong words, but they are sobering as well. The scriptures tell us that man’s resistance to divine authority and moral accountability are the real underlying causes for his rejection of God. Thus, appeals to the lack of evidence for God’s existence may provide a thinly veiled justification for rejecting Him, but they do not identify the real issue. Isaiah tells us the real reason when he declares,
All we like sheep have gone astray;
We have turned, every one, to his own way;
But then the good news follows immediately after in the very next words of the verse:
And the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:6)
Philosophical naturalism and scientific materialism may provide a more cleverly disguised justification and a more persuasive sounding reason for rejecting the God who gave to men the very minds by which such arguments are crafted, but the heart of the matter is the same. Man is sinful and does not want to yield his heart to God. He still choosing the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil over the Tree of Life. He still seeks to go his own way: he is just using loftier sounding arguments and long equations to justify his choice.
This is NOT to say that investigations into the natural order are without merit. Quite to the contrary, we have already testified to the fact that the search into the universe God created offers an opportunity to have a greater insight into the heart and mind behind the creation. However, when the creation itself becomes the chief aim rather than creator, it becomes an idol that blinds one to the truth rather than the lens through which such truths are magnified. Evidence is objective, but worldviews are chosen. Jesus Himself testified to this:
And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God.” John 3:19-21
The lenses through which we view the world are not chosen for us, as some would like to claim. Though we may inherit certain perceptions of reality from those whose influence shaped our earliest convictions, we ultimately choose for ourselves the way we see the world. If we are responsive to God, our eyes are opened to see the world through His optics. If we are instead only responsive to our own desires, we will see the world as we wish it to be, and the evidence will appear to tell us what we want it to say. More than that, we will seek to silence the voices that say otherwise, just as Jesus warned in the verses above. This, to me, is an answer for the vitriol we sometimes see aimed at those of us who choose to believe in the God behind the created order rather than seeing the creation as an end in itself. Neither man nor the created order are the sum of all things but merely an indicator of a greater, transcendent reality behind it all. Even the heart of man bears witness to this greater reality.
Even Gentiles, who do not have God’s written law, show that they know his law when they instinctively obey it, even without having heard it. They demonstrate that God’s law is written in their hearts, for their own conscience and thoughts either accuse them or tell them they are doing right. (Romans 1:14-15 NLT, emphasis mine)
Evidence of God is not only in the stars or in our genetic code but written upon the tablet of our own hearts as well. There God has inscribed his moral law within us, which both directs and convicts us regarding our own behavior. God has somehow hardwired the knowledge of right and wrong into each of us, letting us know when we’ve crossed lines that we should not, hinting that something in us is broken when our outward performance falls short of internal ideals. Thus, He speaks both within and without, giving witness that He is both great in His creation of the heavens and yet intimate in the inner workings of our conscience. His voice is all around us, witnessing to us of His desire for us to seek and to find Him. He has made us for this search, even as Paul testifies:
And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings, so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; (Acts 17:26-27 emphasis mine)
Where does all this lead? What is most needed? In a word, humility. It is our humility before such weighty matters which will most greatly aid us in our search for truth, if it is truth we seek. It is humility which will shrink us to appropriate size in the face of such a mighty God. Humility is not a groveling that denies us our essential value, but a clarity of vision which pulls back the curtain enabling us to see things as they really are. Humility realigns our vision to see not ourselves but God as the center and source of all things – for whom and by whom are all things. Indeed, it is as we humble ourselves before the weight of His majesty that we exchange the wisdom of fools, the wisdom of this world, for the true wisdom which is found in Him.