Theological Reflection

Nature – God Revealed?

There is a basic idea behind this post: God is revealed through nature. Or, put differently, we could say that the universe tells us something about the One who made it. This statement would be very familiar for most Christians, but it (or a slight variation of it) would also find acceptance amongst a much broader audience than your average disciple of Jesus: Muslims and Jews would also agree with the idea that the universe reveals things to us about the One who made it, and there are many pagans, pantheists, and others who strongly believe that nature reveals something of the Divine to human beings. So in many ways, it’s a pretty broad idea, and one that many from a wide spectrum of belief systems would agree with (which is quite rare when talking about spiritual matters).

In fact, just about the only group of people who would really disagree with this statement are those who don’t believe in any spiritual reality at all (not an insignificant group, of course); it is quite common to hear from athiests that no evidence for the Divine exists in nature. Although such people are in the minority (globally speaking), it is striking to note the percentage of atheists is significantly higher amongst scientists (those who study the natural world most closely) than among the general population. This poses a challenging question: if, as we claim, there is evidence for God in nature, why is it that those who devote their lives to studying the natural world are also those who are least likely to believe in God? Doesn’t this strongly suggest that there isn’t any evidence for God in the world around us?

It would certainly seem so. But then again, perhaps the more significant factor is not how much one studies the universe, but rather which lens we use to study it. Imagine two men were examining a strange artifact deep underwater, and both were asked to write a report on what they found. The first man was able to inspect the object for over an hour, but his goggles were shoddy – blurry, scratched, and dark – and he could barely see. The second man, on the other hand, was only able to analyze the item for five minutes before he had to surface, but his lens was crisp and clear, giving him perfect vision. Who do you think would bring back a more accurate report of what they found?

I would submit that having the right lens is absolutely vital to properly understanding our surroundings. And since the God who created the world is the same God who inspired the writing of the Bible, what better lens could there be than the Bible itself? There is surely evidence for God in the world, but we have to see the world through the lens of the Bible in order to see it clearly.

The quick thinker might quickly criticize this approach. Surely it is circular reasoning for us to say that there is evidence for God in the world, but you have to believe in God first to see that evidence (which, by the way, is exactly what I’m saying). That would mean that you can only see the evidence for God if you already believe in Him! But when you think about it, that actually makes a lot of sense. As lion tracks in a savannah bespeak a lion only to someone who has previously seen a lion (and can recognise their tracks), so we are only able to recognise the visible prints of God’s handiwork in the world if we first familiarise ourselves with God himself, through His Word.

So then, what does it mean for a person to see the world through the crisp, clear lens of knowing God? Let me conclude with the words of Martin Luther, because he says it better than I ever could: with the right lens, a person will “see in the smallest and meanest flower God’s omnipotent wisdom and goodness… And properly considered every green tree is lovelier than gold or silver. Surely the contemplation of the whole creation, and especially of the simplest grasses of the fields and the adornment of the earth, proves that our Lord God is an artist like unto none.”

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9 thoughts on “Nature – God Revealed?

  1. Hello, interesting post. I have a background in both science and theology. Both worlds impact the work I do. What irks the scientist in me is when God is used as an epistemic crutch. Scientists study the physical world and search for proximal causes– not ultimate causes (in the sense of Aristotle or Aquinas) The hard sciences do not delve into the questions of meaning or the deeper “why” questions. I think athiest scientist, to a large extent, have been driven there in reaction to the oft-uttered, anti-intellectual, “God did it” explanations.

    1. Hey Mr. John, thanks for sharing, it sounds like you are far more informed than I to be speaking about this kind of topic! If I’ve understood your post correctly, I totally agree with you – the purposes of most scientists are quite different from those who might look to the natural world for evidence of God. We shouldn’t be surprised that most scientists aren’t seeing evidence for God in the universe, because they are studying the world for a different purpose and with a different lens. Also, as you very importantly pointed out, they are trying to answer different questions.

      As a side note, though, I am genuinely interested to find out more about why the percentage of atheists is higher in the scientist community than it is in the general population. There are certainly many prominent Christian scientists (both presently and historically) who are outside the anti-intellectual blind faith group that you alluded to – but despite this, there seems to be a link between scientific study and atheism. Why do you think that is??

      1. Speaking for myself, I struggle with the word God because it evokes images of Zeus in the sky striking us down with lightning. I really think that many who do not believe in God are rejecting this cartoonish conception of the divine.

        Likewise, there is a line of really poor Christian scholarship, popularized by the likes of Lee Strobel, which uses scientific terms, like “evidence” and “eye witness” to “build a case” for the existence of God/ Christ. The problem here is that we are removing God from spiritual realm and subjecting the divine to logical and scientific scrutiny. In my opinion, that only will take us down a dead end. When we interject God into the equation of how the physical universe exists, God remains an ever present physical variable. Using God in this way, to me and to many scientists, is a mere epistemological crutch. God occupies the space that our minds do not yet comprehend.

        So, it comes back to the question of what we mean when we “see” God in creation. When I see God in creation, creation brings me to a connection with the divine. This connection has nothing to do with the seeing God as the one who physically started it all. That is a rather drab conception of God, devoid of any real personal connection.

        Some people are better at looking at the world lyrically, while others solely deal in the concrete. If you live in the concrete, God is certainly harder to find.

  2. That’s interesting, I think you’ve touched on a really good point by focusing on the question of what it actually means when we “see” God in creation. For me, it is simply that the magnificence, beauty, and complexity of creation makes me think, “Wow, the one who made this must be even more magnificent, beautiful, and all wise to create such a complex and beautiful world.” So for me, the connection has everything to do with God being the one who created it all.

  3. In a causal chain of events, where do you insert God? If you say God physically started it all, what is the point at which naturalistic explanations take over. God, as literal physical creator, is a modernist conception. I believe that the modernist lens is useless in truly seeing God. Such a lens focuses on evidence, proof, and rationality. I prefer to see God through the lens of romanticism, which deals with language of beauty, depths of feeling, lyricism, and virtue. I do not doubt you hold these romanticized ideas of God. However, they are entirely at odds with the modernist God. Modernism would lead us to ask questions like how God did the creating. What mechanisms did He use? These questions are superfluous to me.

    For that reason, I throw out modernist notions of God to preserve the lyrical nature through which I see God. The tension between faith and science comes when they both try to occupy the same modernist space.

    1. I do believe God physically created it all, and yes of course, this is the point after which naturalistic explanations help us to understand the way God made things. But why is that a problem? Naturalistic explanations are just that: explanations. Just because we understand and can explain how clouds form does not preclude the idea that God (somehow) controls when it rains. Many people think of God as occupying the spaces that science has not yet explained, but this is creating a false dichotomy between faith and science.

      Who created the laws by which we are even able to make accurate naturalistic explanations? I see the increasing scope of scientific discovery not as a decreasing realm of God’s providence (as if God only controls what we don’t understand) but rather as an increasing human understanding of the marvellous complexity of the way God has made things to function.

      I agree that it is simply beyond our understanding to know God’s methods, and consequently that we shouldn’t be surprised if we cannot find answers to modernist questions regarding God and His methods of creation (because modernism rejects the mysterious or supernatural). But I wouldn’t go so far as to say that the modernist lens is completely useless in seeing God – faith must come first, but reason still plays a major role. Also, I’m not sure I understand what you mean when you say that “God, as a literal physical creator, is a modernist conception.” I wonder if you could elucidate that for me?

  4. Ben,
    I want to say that I have deep admiration of your ability to engage in weighty theological and philosophical questions. You clearly are a very intelligent and spirit driven man. You have challenged me to consider my own beliefs and thoughts throughout this dialogue. I think the true power of blogging, versus mere journaling, is the relational aspect of the activity.

    There is a divorce within my mind between the physical and the spiritual worlds. Certainly I accept that there can be spiritual explanations for the physical, but the physical can be wholly explained in physical terms

    If we look at physical events as a chain of marbles hitting one another, one after the other, I would never say God is one of those marbles. That is not to say that God is not a part of the process in other, non- physical ways. By literal physical creator, I am referring to a God who could be substituted for a physical cause.

    I believe that the role of God is to bring meaning, redemption, hope, feeling– all real, but deal with the realm of the eternal and transcend the physical. In this manner, I do not look at miracles as suspensions of natural laws. Rather, i look as miracles in terms of God bringing about spiritual transformation. I believe many of the miracles, as described in the bible are parabolic. Marcus Borg discusses this notion quite eloquently.

    I do not need physical proof of the existence of God. I do not need miracles of the bible to be literal accounts to understand the grandiloquence of God. Rather, I have something greater, which is a sense of spiritual fulfillment that comes knowing the presence of a living God.

    1. Hey Mr. John, likewise, I really appreciate being able dialogue with you on some of these issues and questions, and the fact that you grapple seriously and intelligently with this stuff. Thanks for your clarification on what you meant by ‘literal physical creator’, that makes a lot of sense to me. I agree for the most part I think – I would also think of him as being outside the causal (marble) chain/tree/web, and that for the most part we can describe the physical wholly by means of the physical. My only two caveats would be 1) I think we have to admit a large level of ignorance when it comes to that ‘first marble’, and 2) I think that there can certainly be individual little marbles amidst the expansive chain that are NOT natural (i.e. miracles) that can’t be explained by merely natural means.

      (You’re inspired my next two blog posts I think, haha… one on miracles, and perhaps one on the causal chain)

      I totally agree with your statement about not needing physical proof of the existence of God, and I think it’s an important notion, because God has designed things in such a way that faith is a totally necessary element in coming to have relationship with him. “For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe” (1 Cor 1:21).

      1. I am excited to read your next posts. Like everything you have written, I am sure it will be very good.

        I need to step back from the strong position I took on miracles. Rather than say that I do not believe that God can interfere with a causal chain, I must say that science ought to be silent on miracles. For a scientist to explain an act of God would be like trying to send an email with a microwave. Science solely delves into the realm of the physical. Miracles are acts of God so science will not help us explain them. I think the same applies to any nonphysical explanations about the first cause. Science is only applicable at the point that we can apply physical explanations.

        I love your reference to 1 Corinthians. If we only allow the physical world to inform our thinking, we are missing out on the depths of our being.

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