Science, Intellect, and the Rationale of Christian Faith
Peter W.K. Woo
As a young boy instructed in the Christian faith by my mother, I was taught to pray and depend on God for guidance, protection, and care. I accepted these beliefs without question. But when I entered university—in my enthusiasm to explain every phenomenon by physical laws, in an atmosphere where freedom and critical examination of thinking were encouraged, and in exposure to atheistic and agnostic philosophies—my Christian faith was seriously challenged. It was replaced by tormenting doubts that the beliefs I had cherished for so long were wrong and could not be sustained by reason. It was depressing to have to look at life and the universe as purposeless, fortuitous combinations of atoms and molecules governed solely by physical laws.
My doubts gradually disappeared as I came to see that Christian faith can be perfectly acceptable to the logical mind. The hindrance to this realization, at first, was that I failed to see the limitation of our human capacities—our perception and intellect—while focusing mainly on their power and achievements.
Our senses of perception are limited. Our eyes can see colors which are electromagnetic waves from 400 to 700 nanometers—a very small range in the vast spectrum of 108 to 109 nanometers, from gamma rays to radio waves. Our ears can recognize as sounds vibrations from 20 to 20,000 cycles per second but not beyond, even though ultrasonic vibrations exist.
Our intellect also has limitations. We cannot understand the concept of the infinity of time and space—when and where the universe originated, and when and where it will end. We cannot understand a priori, the reasons of our own existence: Why am I here? What is the meaning of my life? There may be answers to these questions, but we cannot, because of our limited intelligence, arrive at these answers by reason alone.
One human being is more intelligent than the other; thus a person with an IQ of 190 may comprehend something utterly inconceivable to another with an IQ of 90. One species of animal is more intelligent than another. This graduation of intelligence shows that there is no reason to believe that human intellect is the highest level attainable and that man has the power to comprehend everything there is to be known. Just as a butterfly may not understand what a man is, man may not comprehend a being much more powerful and much more intelligent than himself.
Physical science, a most fruitful field of human perception, intellect, and innovative endeavors, also has its limitations, as it operates under the constraints of our ability to measure and perceive—to acquire and interpret data. Its growth has been catalyzed by recognition of our deficiencies and needs to improve. And as the history of science has shown, whenever we think we have nature all figured out, we are often greatly surprised by what nature has to offer. Thus, when classical physics seemed to work perfectly in every situation, scientists were surprised that it was impossible to determine simultaneously the exact location and momentum of a small particle like an electron, as enunciated in the now well-accepted Heisenberg's principle of uncertainty. While this recognition ushered in the era of quantum mechanics, it also serves as a cogent reminder that science may not be able to find out everything there is to be found. Presently, while confident of our extensive knowledge of matter, we are confronted with the notion, from leading scientists at the advancing frontiers, that such “ordinary matter” consists of less than 5% of the universe, the remainder being “dark energy” and “dark matter,” whose natures are still largely unknown and controversial. How successful we will be in eventually meeting this key challenge—to gain a better understanding of nature, or insight into our limitations in doing so—remains to be seen.
Starting with a Hypothesis
In order to explain the existence of this universe, it is reasonable to assume that something or some being is responsible for its existence. Let us call this “creator.” The assumption of such a premise should be acceptable to the logical mind. As an analogy, in order to explain natural phenomenon, it is a common practice in science to start with a hypothesis in a similar way.
Thus, to account for certain observations in chemical reactions, the “postulate” of atom was proposed by Dalton in 1805 and now, after years of thorough “verification,” we all acknowledge that atoms exist. In fact, through countless repetitions of the scientific cycle—new “hypotheses” prompted by new observations of insights and subsequent “verification”—our knowledge of atoms has expanded to substantial understanding of their ultimate constituents: subatomic fundamental particles like electrons, quarks, gluons, etc., as well as their infinite combinations to form molecules of all sizes and functions—from water to chlorophyll and hemoglobins, polymers, enzymes, viruses, genes, etc. Thus, hypotheses have been intimately involved in the explosive advances in all branches of science, technology, and medicine that have been bringing substantial benefits to humankind, such as internet communication, new energy developments, genomics, the new fight against cancer through personalized chemotherapy and immunology, etc.
The Nature of a Creator
Returning to rational deduction, the reasonable premise that a creator exists leads to only two corollaries or possibilities concerning its nature toward human beings. First, the creator is an impersonal, cosmic being, which is not interested in the human beings thus produced. The creator may be, for example, an intangible agent synonymous with the essence and harmony of the physical laws of nature. In any event, since it is not interested in human beings, it is likely that we human beings may never be able to discover the exact nature of this creator due to our limitations, mentioned previously.
The second and only remaining corollary is that the creator is interested in the human beings he created. In this event, he will communicate with human beings, even though the methods or channels of communication he uses may be inconceivable to our limited minds. In other words, even though we cannot—through our limited intellect and perception alone—find out about this creator, the creator may, nevertheless, in his own way, reveal himself to us and let us know about his nature.
The Bible's Assertion
With this second corollary in mind, we can examine the message of the Bible. The Bible asserts God as the one who is responsible for the creation of the universe and all the living things therein. The Bible asserts that far from being an impersonal, cosmic being, God is deeply interested in the human beings He created. He loves them, communicates with them, and wants them to live in true happiness enabled by His standards of love and righteousness, and in relationship to Himself and to other human beings. However, the fellowship with God was broken because of human beings' sin—falling short of these standards.
Scripture claims that it was given by inspiration of God. It tells us that Jesus Christ came to earth to carry out a redemptive mission for God in order to restore the broken relationship—and in so doing, thoroughly revealed the nature of God to humans through his teachings, actions, and sacrificial love. Jesus Christ said, I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me (John 14:6). And again, If you had known me, you would have known my Father also; and from now on you know him, and have seen him (John 14:7, WEB). I and my Father are one (John 10:30, KJV).
If we compare these assertions of Christ and of the Bible with the corollary based on purely logical reasoning above—that if the creator is interested in human beings he will communicate with them—the parallelism is obvious. In other words, these assertions in the scriptures are identical to what we have deduced as the necessary consequence of a creator interested in his human creatures. The logical mind is therefore faced with two possibilities. First, it can accept these scriptural assertions as logically necessary and consider Christ and the scripture as the revelation of God. Or, secondly, it can accept these assertions as logically acceptable, but nevertheless consider them as simply the creation of the human mind. How do we determine which of the two possibilities is true?
The Ultimate Proof
In science, hypotheses and alternative possibilities are often proved or disproved empirically, by experimentation which provides evidence not obtainable by reasoning alone. Now, starting from a reasonable premise and employing purely logical deductions, we have arrived at two possible conclusions: first, the scriptural assertions are logically necessary and are the revelation of God; and secondly, the scriptural assertions are logically acceptable, but are the creation of the human mind. If we can verify empirically that the first conclusion is true, then we will have completed the proof that we can know about the nature of God, derived in a framework entirely analogous to the rational-empirical approach—the process of hypothesis, deduction, and empirical verification—that is fundamental to physical sciences.
The scriptures tell us how to proceed with this proof; it is a proof requiring faith and personal experience. Christ told us about the righteousness and love of God. Like a light into the darkness (John 8:12), He has come to the world to call sinners to repentance (Luke 5:32). Whoever believes in Him shall not perish but shall have everlasting life (John 3:16)—everlasting fellowship with God as Father and be loved by Him always.
Christ taught us how to grow in this fellowship, through motivation, discipleship, and commitment. Thus, growth needs proper priorities, attitudes, and relationships with others, forgiving and examining one's self rather than judging others. Above all, growth requires prayers—in His name and according to His will—plus faith and trust.
The goodness of God draws and leads men to repentance (Romans 2:4). If men do their part and respond, humbling themselves as little children, they shall enter into His kingdom (Matthew 18:3-4). Christ said, Seek, and you will find, knock, and it will be opened to you (Luke 11:9). Christ is the bread of life. He that comes to Christ shall never hunger, and he that believes on Christ shall never thirst (John 6:35). Christ will give him joy and peace of heart, saying, These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you (John 15:11, NKJV). My peace I give to you…Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid (John 14:27, NKJV). Christ will give him power to become a son of God (John 1:12) and power to experience in his heart and show forth in his life love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness and temperance (Galatians 5:22-23, KJV).
Thus, the proof as to whether the Bible is the word of God—the final step in our rational search for God—consists of a test of the promises of the Bible through personal experience. If one humbles himself, seeks God earnestly, faithfully, obediently, and finds—as promised in the Bible—the love of God, the assurance, peace, and joy through God, the forgiveness of sin, and the God-given power through Christ to lead his life away from sin toward a victorious life of love and righteousness, then he has every reason to believe, on firm rational ground, that God, His revelation, and His love are real and not figments of imagination. He may say, as Billy Graham did, “I know that God exists because of my personal experience. I know that I know Him. I have talked with Him and walked with Him. He cares about me and acts in my everyday life” (Time, April 8, 1966).
A Transcendent Revelation
Along with the clear analogy in thought process pertaining to proof by empirical verification (as shown above), a clear distinction between the “nature” of evidence from scientific experiments and the experience with God should also be noted. While scientific evidence is objective, precisely measurable, and readily shared by all, experience with God is personal, spiritual, and may be mediated through God's own inspiration and revelation in ways that may transcend human understanding, as God may be in control of sets of physical laws that are beyond human awareness, comprehension, or control.
In conclusion, then, based on firm logical ground, it has been shown that the nature and the existence of God are beyond the scope of science and human intellect, but may be known through God's own revelation. The love of God and peace and joy through Him—both now and everlasting—can be experienced by those who walk with faith and humble, seeking hearts.