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Why Should a Scientist Believe in God? Templeton/A.S.A. Lecture, Baylor University, March 26, 2004 Loren Haarsma Physics & Astronomy Department, Calvin College (Cartoon by Berkeley Breathed, Bloom County ). When someone asks, “Why should I believe in God?” they could mean:.

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Why Should a ScientistBelieve in God?Templeton/A.S.A. Lecture, Baylor University, March 26, 2004Loren Haarsma Physics & Astronomy Department, Calvin College(Cartoon by Berkeley Breathed, Bloom County)


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When someone asks, “Why should I believe in God?” they could mean:

  • What evidence is there that God exists?

  • What difference does it make if God exists? What does religion add to your life?


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Scientific study of the natural world often could mean:provokes a response of wonder and awe

but seldom provokes sustained religious belief.


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Problems with even the most convincing could mean:“scientific proofs for God’s existence ”

  • What is scientifically inexplicable now may not be so in the future.

  • Even if something is scientifically inexplicable, that does not prove it is supernatural.

  • God could put much more obvious and ubiquitous “proofs” in nature, but has not.

  • Most scientists who do believe in God have other reasons for belief which they consider far more important.

  • Belief in God’s existence is not the gospel.


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What sorts of evidence prompt Christians to believe in God? could mean:

  • The size, majesty, intricacy of the world.

  • Historical evidence.

  • Narrative / philosophical coherence and credibility.

  • The experience and testimony of fellow believers --- especially family and friends.

  • Personal experience of a Personal God, encountered through prayer, worship, scripture, and living a life of faith.


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  • Hasn’t science disproved religion? could mean:

  • Isn’t “God” an unnecessary hypothesis?

  • Isn’t faith the opposite of reason?

    Questions like these are sometimes raised as arguments for why a person should not believe in God; so they deserve a careful answer.


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How can a scientist and believe in God? Isn’t science inherently atheistic?

  • There are certain philosophical (meta-scientific) beliefs about the world which all scientists share, which make it possible to do science.

  • These beliefs about nature are not restricted to atheists; they are compatible with many religious worldviews, including Christianity.


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Some “worldview” assumptions are inherently atheistic?NOT helpful for science(Bill Waterson, Calvin and Hobbes)


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Some worldview assumptions inherently atheistic?necessary to do science:

  • Events in natural world typically have (immediate) natural causes.

  • Linear (not circular) view of time

  • These natural causes and effects have regular, repeatable, universal patterns.

  • We can, at least partly, understand these patterns

  • Logic and theory are not enough; experiments are needed.

  • Science is worth doing.


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Natural events have natural causes. inherently atheistic?

Linear view of time

Causes and effects have regular, universal patterns.

We can understand these patterns.

Experiments are needed.

Science is worth doing.

Creation is not pantheistic.

Time is linear, not circular.

God is not capricious. God can do miracles, but usually governs in consistent ways.

We are made in God’s image, suitable for this world.

God’s creativity is free; we are limited and fallen.

Nature is God’s creation; we are called to study it.

Worldview assumptionsChristian necessary for sciencebeliefs


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Isn’t God an “unnecessary hypothesis? inherently atheistic?

  • Every worldview must hypothesize a fundamental basis for reality which simply, necessarily (not contingently) exists.

  • Atheists invest matter with certain “godlike” properties: self-existence, eternal existence.

  • Is the fundamental basis of reality personal or impersonal? Which hypothesis better explains the full range of facts? For example:


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The apparent fine-tuning of the laws of nature. inherently atheistic?

  • The existence of our religious sentiments.

  • Many humans, throughout the ages, have claimed to encounter a supernatural Person.

    These do not prove theism, but they do seriously blunt the Occam’s Razor argument.


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Isn’t Faith the opposite of Reason? inherently atheistic?

  • Many people use the word “faith” to mean “believing in some idea despite lack of evidence or despite contradictory evidence.

  • This bears little resemblance to what Christians mean by the word “Faith”

    • Trust in God’s character and ability.

    • Acting “in good faith” towards God and others.

    • Being faithful in difficult circumstances.

      (Consider the example of Abraham….)


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Isn’t Faith the opposite of Reason? inherently atheistic?

  • The opposite of Reason is Irrationality.

  • The opposite of Skepticism is Gullibility.

  • The opposite of Doubt is Certainty.

  • The opposite of Faith is Unbelief.

    • Both are deliberate choices about how to live your life.

    • Both can be chosen because of a lot of evidence, little evidence, or even despite evidence.


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Isn’t science the only way inherently atheistic?to get reliable knowledge?

  • Other commons sources of knowledge:

    • Historical information

    • Legal method (eye witness, etc.)

    • Personal experience

    • Social knowledge

  • All those are relevant to religion, plus:

    • Revealed knowledge

    • Voice on conscience ; wisdom of others.


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To answer a question, you need inherently atheistic?appropriate evidence (which is not always scientific)(Bill Waterson, Calvin and Hobbes)


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Scientific knowledge does not inherently atheistic?fulfill religious needs (cartoon by Sidney Harris)


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Isn’t science the only way inherently atheistic?to get reliable knowledge?

  • Every day we make decisions based on other types of knowledge, which we consider reliable.

  • We even make life-long commitments based on other types of knowledge.


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Isn’t there as much reason to believe in alien abductions as to believe in God?

  • Both cite evidence of personal experience.

  • Both admit alternative explanations.

  • The persuasiveness of some evidence (which might admit multiple explanations) depends a great deal on the credibility of the hypothesis.

    (“Bungling abducting aliens” seems unlikely.)

  • Does the “God hypothesis” seem unlikely?


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  • Aren’t all religions essentially the same? as to believe in God?

  • How can any religion be true when there are so many?

  • Why isn’t God more obvious?

  • Why is there so much evil if God exists?

    Questions like these cause some people (not just scientists) to decide that the “God hypothesis” is unlikely.


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At their core, aren’t all religions essentially the same? as to believe in God?

  • The major religions do have a great deal of agreement about moral issues.

  • But each religion has a unique set of answers to questions like:

    • What is the fundamental nature of the divine?

    • What is the ultimate fate of human beings?

    • How can we live in harmony with the divine?

  • Logically, at most one religion could be correct in its answers to those questions.


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How can any religion be true when there are so many? as to believe in God?

  • When confronting a scientific puzzle, do you give up and say, “How can one scientific explanation be true when there are so many hypotheses?”



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If God exists, why isn’t it obvious? as to believe in God?

  • God’s primary goal is not mere belief in his existence.

  • Based on what we know about human nature – and based on some examples we see in the Bible – it seems reasonable that God proving his existence may be counter-productive towards higher goals.


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Why doesn’t God as to believe in God?forcefully destroy evil?

  • Christianity offers a unique answer to this question, but it’s a shocking and scandalous answer: the incarnation, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

  • God’s plan of action for defeating human evil includes suffering as a victim and then forgiving it – and inviting his followers to do the same.

    Does this sound like an

    “unlikely hypothesis”?


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How should someone investigate the “God hypothesis”? as to believe in God?

  • Christians say that they primarily come to know and believe in God through the personal and social experience of God in prayer, scripture, and worship.

    To a scientist – or anyone else – I offer this challenge:

    if you want to test the “God hypothesis,”

    you have to go where the evidence is.


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What does religion add to your life? as to believe in God?

  • Each believer must be ready to answer this question from his or her own life’s experience.

  • Context –– a bigger, more beautiful, more significant, eternal context to absolutely every part of my life … including science.


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…a as to believe in God?bigger, more significant, beautiful, eternal context to every part of life.


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What does religion add to your life? as to believe in God?

  • Vertical component to life: everything I do is part of my relationship with God.

  • Enriched horizontal component to life: every human I meet is a child of God, someone who God wants me to love.

  • God’s promises: who we are and what we do in this life has eternal significance.


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Can’t you be good without God? as to believe in God?

Harvard Society of Fellows Declaration of Principles:

"You have been selected as a member of this society for your personal prospect of serious achievement in your chosen field, and your promise of notable contribution to knowledge and thought. That promise you must redeem with your whole intellectual and moral force. You will practice the virtues, and avoid the snares, of the scholar. You will be courteous to your elders who have explored to the point from which you may advance; and helpful to your juniors who will progress farther by reason of your labors. Your aim will be knowledge and wisdom, not the reflected glamour of fame. You will not accept credit that is due to another, or harbor jealousy of an explorer who is more fortunate. You will seek not a near but a distant objective, and you will not be satisfied with what you may have done. All that you may achieve or discover you will regard as a fragment of a larger pattern of the truth which from the separate approaches every true scholar is striving to descry. To these things, in joining the Society of Fellows, you dedicate yourself."


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