by Charles L. Rulon
”God did it” answers have historically yielded to scientific explanations
Repeatedly, supernatural explanations for physical events (such as comets, eclipses, earthquakes, lightning, plagues, design in nature, Cambrian fossil explosion) later turned out to be scientifically explainable. Even questions surrounding the origin of our universe, its apparent fine-tuning and the origin of life are yielding to scientific investigation. As scientific knowledge continued to advance over the past 400 years, supernatural explanations for events continued to retreat and retreat. Many scientists faced with such a consistent trend have extrapolated to the conclusion that all of our earthly gods are non-existent and our holy books merely human creations.
Today, some Christian, Jewish and Islamic theologians still reject all scientific findings that disagree with a literal reading of their holy books. Others spend considerable time re-defining and reinterpreting words and phrases in their holy books to try to make the Genesis creation stories, Noah’s Ark and other miraculous events fit established scientific discoveries. Still others have accepted the findings of science, but still see God as somehow intimately and actively involved in all natural processes. But the efforts of these theologians are all one-sided; it is they who are continuously reacting or adjusting to scientific advances, not the other way around. If some supernatural intelligent entity does exist, this entity seems to be working strictly through the laws of nature.
“God did it” is bad science
Scientists don’t fall back on supernatural interventions to explain mysteries about the physical universe, not because they are closed-minded or non-theists, but simply because “God did it” answers are dead ends. Such answers don’t open doors to new discoveries, new predictions, or productive research. We’ll never get closer to discovering how life and the universe work by rubber stamping our gaps in scientific knowledge with “God did it” proclamations. By insisting on naturalistic answers our reliable scientific knowledge has exploded. Over one million scientific research papers are now being published yearly.
“God did it” is bad theology
Even if it looks to our limited minds that “God did it” is the only possible answer to some physical aspect of our existence, it’s still bad theology to claim as much. This is because the strength of one’s faith now depends on whether or not scientists can fill this gap in our knowledge. Since scientists have been extremely successful over the last few centuries in replacing “God did it” answers with fruitful naturalistic explanations, the risk of one’s faith being undermined is quite high.
“God did it” answers can border on blasphemy
Some liberal Christians have written that it borders on blasphemy to claim that their all-loving God would personally and purposely place His favorite creations on a planet destined to experience catastrophic disasters that can even result in global mass extinctions. Or consider our biological evolution. Rejecting evolution is like rejecting the fact that the sun gives off heat. It requires rejecting major chunks of biology, anthropology, geology, biochemistry, genetics and physics, plus essentially the scientific method, itself. Today, every major scientific organization in the U.S. and in most of the world has published statements supporting the fact of our evolution. Yet, roughly 40% of Americans still reject evolution in favor of ancient creation myths. Such widespread denial not only speaks volumes regarding our educational systems, but also borders on blasphemy. Consider:
It borders on blasphemy to claim that God would purposely deceive literally hundreds of thousands of dedicated scientists by making it look in every last detail as though evolution has occurred over the last several billion years. It borders on blasphemy to claim that an all-wise, all-good God would have purposely created the overwhelming majority of all His species to be deadly parasites, which they are. It borders on blasphemy to claim that God specially created us to have dozens of what appear to be poor engineering designs and anatomical defects, including our human brain with enough serious defects to fill neurology and psychiatric text books and is now endangering our entire biosphere. Prominent evolutionary biologist (and theist) Francisco Ayala had this to say regarding all of our apparent designer defects: “Not only can natural selection account for the ‘design’ of organisms, but also it amounts to blasphemy to attribute it to God’s special action.”[i]
“God did it” answers encourage the rejection of rationality
Another problem in fostering belief in “God did it” answers to scientific questions is that humans then find it much easier to reject the scientific method, take leaps of faith and believe in an amazing diversity of disproved or highly questionable paranormal and supernatural things such as demons, angels, hell, purgatory, auras, virgin births, resurrections, faith healings, exorcisms, voices from Atlantis, omens, spirit signals, reincarnations, judgment days, astrology, voodoo, fairies, vampires, zombies, witches, telekinesis, warlocks, ghosts, poltergeists, tarot cards, ouija boards, numerology, and on and on and on.
Also, once we grant the possibility of “God did it” answers to the workings of the universe, then we’ve strengthened the possibility of God’s miracles being in everything all the time. For example, perhaps this god really did create the world only 6,000 years ago, but made it appear exactly as if it had evolved naturally over billions of years, fossils and all. Or maybe the earth is flat after all, according to the Flat Earth Society’s reading of selected biblical passages (see Dan. 4: 11, 20; Rev. 7:1; Is. 41: 5 and 40:28), but God makes us believe otherwise to test our faith.
“God did it” answers buttress justification for atrocities
Throughout history humans have used their gods to justify slavery, the oppression of women, holy wars, inquisitions, crusades, jihads, the torture and burning of witches and homosexuals, the stoning to death of non-virgin brides and those caught working on holy days, and even the extermination of entire heathen cultures and inferior races. Maybe God even manipulated events and people so that the United States would go to war with Iraq and then Iran in order to speed along the Apocalypse.
Charles L. Rulon, Emeritus, Life Sciences, Long Beach City College
[i] “Arguing For Evolution” by Francisco Ayala, The Science Teacher, February 2000 (vol. 67, no. 2), pp. 30-32. Ayala is in the Department of Ecology and Evolution, University of California, Irvine.