Many of today’s materialists would be open to this holistic view of providence in that they could employ the same language without speaking of miracles, which they view as impossible. Yet such a view grossly misunderstands the biblical Creator. As Lewis points out, the problem is not that miracles are irrational, but because we have incorrect views on God. “The popular ‘religion’ [which for most people today functions as a form of deism] excludes miracles because it excludes the ‘living God’ of Christianity and believes instead in a kind of God who obviously would not do miracles, or indeed anything else” (Lewis, Miracles 130). Materialists can’t reconcile what the Bible claims about God and his work with their own materialist ideas, so they reject him.
Einstein is not the only one, then, who can’t seem to grasp what it means for God to be both our Everlasting Creator and our Loving Redeemer, especially in the shadow of the Enlightenment. For example, in 1748 David Hume wrote that, “A miracle is a violation of the laws of nature, and as a firm and unalterable experience has established these laws, the proof against a miracle, from the very nature of the fact, is as entire as any argument from experience can possibly be imagined” (from his Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding and Concerning the Principles of Morals, quoted in Louis 1). In other words, if miracles are defined as violations of natural laws, and natural laws are defined as absolute, then miracles are simply impossible. Many have therefore accepted the evidence for the historical life of Jesus, the beauty and goodness of his teachings, and even the power of his self-sacrifice, but reject his miraculous ministry, and especially his resurrection.
Rudolph Bultmann was another such scholar. In his aptly-titled work, Kerygma and Myth, he claimed that, “It is impossible to use electric light and the wireless and to avail ourselves of modern medical and surgical discoveries, and at the same time to believe in the New Testament world of spirits and miracles” (quoted in Louis 8). But while this reflects well the “historical Jesus” of The Jefferson Bible, Bart Ehrmann, and the ironically-named “Jesus Movement,” it is not the incarnate Christ we find in the Scriptures, “who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead” (Rom 1:3-4 ESV, emphasis added throughout).
But believing in miracles does not mean believing everything said about miracles in the religious world today. In fact, there are two equally problematic strains in Christian thought. The first strain essentially adopts the same view as Hume, viewing miracles as something wholly unnatural; while the second sees a miracle in everything seemingly unexplainable. Both, however, fail to understand the integral connection between nature and super-nature. We’ll proceed with the former strain first, and then work our way to the latter.
First of all (contra Hume), a miracle is not a rejection or violation of natural law. As we have discussed previously, the Bible teaches us that God creates, sustains and directs all creation providentially through natural laws (Psa 19; 104; Col 1:15-17). You cannot therefore believe in the biblical God of miracles and reject the biblical God of nature; he clearly works both ways. In fact, it is only when we accept natural laws that miracles become possible. “Nothing can seem extraordinary until you have discovered what is ordinary. Belief in miracles, far from depending on an ignorance of the laws of nature, is only possible in so far as those laws are known” (Miracles 75).
So while God typically acts through his own natural laws, the Bible clearly claims that he acts miraculously as well—and Christians believe both of these claims are made on the highest authority. If God’s creative providence is the same power as his redeeming love, miracles reveal and fulfill the work he began in creation. As Lewis therefore points out, “miracles must of course interrupt the usual course of Nature; but if they are real they must . . . assert all the more unity and self-consistency of total reality at some deeper level” (Miracles 97).
In fact, the various words for miracles in the Bible point to this unity of effort among God’s activities. Our English word miracle derives from the Latin miraculum, referring to an “object of wonder,” but the Bible uses other terms for these events that tell us just why God acts in these ways. For example, Moses repeatedly reminded the sons of Israel of “the great trials that your eyes saw, the signs, the wonders, the mighty hand, and the outstretched arm, by which the LORD your God brought you out” of Egypt (Deu 7:19). And as Peter preached in the first gospel sermon, God raised Jesus from the dead, “a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know” (Acts 2:22). The context of each of these passages (the Exodus and the Resurrection) points to miracles, not as a remedy for nature (as Hume, Einstein and others seem to assume), but for the redemption of a people. As the Hebrews writer points out, miracles “bear witness” to God as Savior by (1) highlighting his message and messengers (signs) and (2) cultivating a sense of reverent awe (wonders), (3) through demonstrations of his own power (powers or mighty works; Heb 2:4 ASV).
This brings us to another important point: since God alone has the power to create all things “both visible and invisible,” only he has the power to interrupt the usual course of nature by suspending his own laws (Col 1:16 ESV). Though Christ gave some of that power to prophets, apostles, and evangelists before and after his resurrection (Luke 10:1-20), these abilities were always given directly by Christ himself or one of the Twelve (Acts 8:14-17). Paul therefore brings together all three terms again in defense of his own ministry, reminding the church at Corinth that, “The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with utmost patience, with signs and wonders and mighty works” (2Co 12:12). But since Paul considered himself the last and least of the apostles (1Co 15:7-9), and we’re separated from the apostolic age by over 1,900 years, the ability to work miracles is once more limited to the providential prerogative of God himself.
This does not mean, though, that the church today is without miracles—we just have to know where to look: “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:30-31). The miracles recounted in the Bible are therefore glimpses of God’s grand plan for the cosmos. Miracles “have occurred because they are the very thing this universal story is about. They are not exceptions (however rarely they occur) nor irrelevancies. They are precisely those chapters in this great story on which the plot turns” (Lewis, Miracles 157). Like nature, then, miracles serve as signs or pointers to God, that all might come to know him through the testimony of those whom he sent. And it is by weighing the testimony of these inspired writers that we have access to the mind of God himself (1Co 2:12-16).
The biblical balance between faith and reason is further explained by the close relationship between the Creator and his creation, between nature and super-nature. Psalm 19 provides a prime case in point. Verse one reads, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork” (19:1 ESV). But it is not the sky alone that speaks: day and night pour out speech and reveal knowledge (19:2-3), and “Their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world” (19:4). Even the natural revolution of the earth around the sun declares the awesome fact that there is a Creator (19:4-6).
That being said, the Psalm also teaches us that God’s self-revelation through nature can only say so much on its own. But since Yahweh has also revealed himself through his word (law, testimony, precepts, fear and judgments) and it is worthy of our trust (perfect, sure, right, pure, clean and true), we can also know and experience him personally as our Redeemer (revival, wisdom, joy, enlightenment, eternal life, righteousness, pleasure, reward, forgiveness, integrity, innocence and favor), which itself points back to his work in creation (soul, heart, eyes, gold and honey; 19:7-14). We can therefore sing with Asaph, that “The heavens declare his righteousness, for God himself is judge” (Psa 50:6)!
For this reason, statements of God’s creative work occur often and naturally throughout both Scripture and nature. Thus, as Paul writes to Corinth, “For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth . . . yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist” (1Co 8:5-6). So while it is by faith that we as believers “understand . . . the universe was created by the word of God” (Heb 11:3), it is also a fact accessible to all mankind. As Athanasius once wrote, God has created humanity in such a way that “by looking into the heights of heaven, and perceiving the harmony of creation, they might know its ruler, the Word of the Father, who, by his own providence over all things, makes the Father known to all” (De incarnatione 12, quoted in McGrath, ch. 7; see John 1:1, 18).
God’s creativity, though, is not confined to the beginning; his supernatural conservation of the cosmos continues alongside and empowers natural processes. “For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Col 1:16-17). So just as “the universe was created by the word of God” (Heb 11:3), the Son “upholds the universe by the word of his power” (1:3), and “by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire” (2Pe 3:7). All creation is therefore radically dependent on the Voice who spoke in Genesis 1, became flesh in John 1, and that John turned to see in Revelation 1.
As Calvin would point out to the Einsteins of today, “to make God a momentary Creator, who once for all finished his work, would be cold and barren, and we must differ from profane men especially in that we see the presence of divine power shining as much in the continuing state of the universe as in its inception” (Institutes 1.16). And though Calvin took God’s creativity and omnipotence further than the Bible teaches, he is correct in seeing creation as the continuous out-working of God’s creativity. After all, it was Jesus who told the Jewish leaders, “My Father is working until now, and I am working” (John 5:17). As Tillich stated, “The doctrine of creation is not the story of an event which took place ‘once upon a time.’ It is the basic description of the relation between God and the world” (141-142). Because of this, we should think of God’s creation as active through every phase of time—past, present and future—his originating creativity, sustaining creativity, and directing creativity.
For example, note the use of the present tense in Psalm 104: God himself stretches out the heavens, establishes the earth and seas, waters and feeds his creatures, causes vegetation to grow, and creates both darkness and light. And yet each of these is also an ongoing natural process governed by natural laws accessible to scientific inquiry: thermodynamics, gravity, strong and weak nuclear forces, the water cycle, photosynthesis, and the conservation of mass and energy. The Psalmist therefore attributes both causes—natural and supernatural—to the Lord: “When you send forth your Spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the ground” (Psa 104:30).
David sees these same forces at work in the special creation of each individual human being: “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well” (Psa 139:13-14). And though we understand much about the biological processes God uses to build our “frame . . . intricately woven in the depths of the earth,” it is still ultimately a “secret” of his sustaining and directing creativity manifested in his providential rule through nature: “Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them” (139:15-16).
Thus, even the regular operation of natural processes is a testament to the divine. Jeremiah could therefore speak of the Lord’s “covenant with day and night and the fixed order of heaven and earth” (Jer 33:25). And as Paul told the people of Lystra, God “did not leave himself without witness, for he did good by giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness” (Acts 14:17). Augustine therefore comments, “For, quite apart from the prophets, the very order, changes, and movements in the universe, the very beauty of form, in all that is visible, proclaim, however silently, both that the world was created and also that its Creator could be none other than God whose greatness and beauty are both ineffable and invisible” (The City of God 11).
So if God created the world and its natural processes, and even these natural processes are radically dependent upon a radically independent God, nature and super-nature are in perfect harmony. For this reason, “The ‘naturalness’ of natural events does not consist in being somehow outside God’s providence. It consists in their being interlocked with one another inside a common space-time in accordance with the fixed pattern of the ‘laws’” (Lewis, Miracles 284; see 291). Therefore, “All existential conditions are included in God’s directing creativity. They are not increased or decreased in their power, nor are they cancelled. Providence is not interference; it is creation. It uses all factors . . . in creatively directing everything toward its fulfillment” (Tillich 146). Paul agrees, and his words are rightfully more familiar to Christians today, “all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Rom 8:28). Nature and super-nature are therefore in perfect harmony because both begin and end in God himself.
Perhaps most surprising to some, is that this same recognition of consistent natural laws and their self-evident design serves as the first condition for modern science. Methodological naturalism only works because the natural world has an in-built ordering principle allowing it to be interpreted through human reason. Simply put, nature does not lie, because God is the one who speaks through nature. In fact, as Lewis writes, “Men became scientific because they expected Law in Nature, and they expected Law in Nature because they believed in a Legislator” (Miracles 169).
Natural laws therefore point to design, and a Designer who works out his providential plan through nature (creation) and history (redemption). As Oden points out, “It is the one God who creates the world, permits its freedom to fall, acts to redeem what has fallen, and brings the whole story to fitting consummation” (1.1.6). Nature and super-nature are therefore in perfect harmony, because God’s own creativity and providence are the means by which he unites all things in him. For, “When all things are subjected to [God], then the Son himself will also be subjected to [God] who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all” (1Co 15:28).
Want to Destroy the Church? Ignore the Bible
David French, National Review Online
Want Christianity to Die? Encourage Shallow Faith
Matt Walsh, The Blaze
Want to Reach Millennials? Stop Faking It
Wes McAdams, Radically Christian
Want to Reach Nones? Practice Deep Discipleship
Dominic Douck, First Things
Want to Be a Christian? Follow Jesus
Kevin Rhodes, Hopkins Publishing
To many people today, like atheist Richard Dawkins, faith “means blind trust, in the absence of evidence, even in the teeth of evidence” (from The Selfish Gene, as quoted in McGrath’s Conclusion). But as we have seen the last few weeks, this view of faith is far removed from Einstein’s view of mystery, much less the ideal of faith as revealed in Scripture. To begin with, the harmony of faith and reason is self-evident throughout the Bible, though rarely stated in explicit terms.
In the Old Testament, for example, wisdom is integrally connected with a deep, personal knowledge of Yahweh as Creator and Redeemer: “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight” (Pro 9:10 ESV). As is often stated by students of Judaism, while ancient philosophy and mythology reflect a human search for the divine, the Hebrews knew the Lord and understood wisdom in relation to him. Thus, knowing him as Creator and Redeemer determines what is considered reasonable, even on spiritual matters, such as forgiveness: “Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool” (Isa 1:18, all emphases added).
The New Testament maintains this same focus on reasonable faith by pointing to the objective, historical nature of revelation. As the Hebrews writer explains, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Heb 11:1 NKJV). So while faith requires the believer to take God at his word, it does not mean that all evidence is unavailable or unimportant. Instead, the evidence that exists is enough to convince a reasonable seeker that God tells the truth, and can therefore be trusted even when the thoughts of man have not caught up with the foreknowledge of God. As disciples of Christ, then, we are commanded not to accept whatever teaching comes our way, but instead to “test everything” by the standard of God’s word; and to “hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil” (1Th 5:21-22 ESV; see Acts 17:11; 1Jo 4:1-3).
Luke draws on this principle of evidence twice in relation to Christ’s resurrection. In Acts 1:3, he states that Jesus, “presented himself alive to [the disciples] after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.” And later, he recounts Paul’s use of the Greek word pistes (usually translated as faith) in the philosophical sense, declaring that God will judge the world through Christ, “and of this he has given assurance [pistes] to all by raising him from the dead” (Acts 17:31). Taken together, the apostles said neither, “You’ll just have to believe me,” nor “Seeing is believing,” but instead pointed to sound testimony: “We have seen these things; come and hear what we have seen.”
Paul therefore points to the veracity of the eyewitnesses to Jesus’ resurrection: Christ “appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time . . . . Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me” (1Co 15:5-8). Forty years later, John’s testimony is even more vivid: “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life . . . that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you” (1Jo 1:1-3). Faith in the resurrection of Christ was a matter of sight for the first generation of disciples, but for all believers since, the Christian faith is a matter of weighing and accepting their accounts as valid and reasonable testimony.
But this connection between faith and reason cuts both ways: just as biblical faith is inherently reasonable, the thoroughgoing naturalism of the modern world fails to grasp the comprehensive nature of truth and persuasion. As C.S. Lewis writes, naturalism “offers what professes to be a full account of our mental behaviour; but . . . leaves no room for the acts of knowing or insight on which the whole value of our thinking, as a means to truth, depends” (Miracles 27). So while reason is often appealed to these days as the final authority on everything, its own existence demands an explanation outside of visible nature. Lewis continues, “The Naturalists have been engaged in thinking about Nature. They have not attended to the fact that they were thinking. The moment one attends to this it is obvious that one’s own thinking cannot be merely a natural event, and that therefore something other than Nature exists” (Miracles 65).
As Lewis points out elsewhere, there is a Tao (or Way) that is accessible to all and serves as the basis for all human reasoning. “It is the doctrine of objective value, the belief that certain attitudes are really true, and others are really false, to the kind of thing the universe is and the kind of things we are” (Lewis, Abolition 18). And the Apostle Paul agrees, writing that even those who live without the benefit of Scripture can understand there is a God, reorient their lives toward him, and be judged for failing to do so: “For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse” (Rom 1:20). So by living in a world that actually exists and among people actually capable of reason, man can utilize his common sense to recognize this Way and live by it.
So whether we refer to it as reasonable faith or common sense, or “Natural Law or Practical Reason or the First Platitudes,” truth exists and must be believed as true in order for reasoning to be possible (Abolition 43). Or as Lewis states earlier with even greater brevity, “If nothing is self-evident, nothing can be proved” (Abolition 40). As Einstein himself knew, rationality itself depends on an objective reality and meaning outside of, and independent of, human thought. And if we cannot even agree on the fundamental facts of reality, reason becomes a mere exercise in futility. Rationalism aside, then, reason is not the beginning of true philosophy, but rather faith. As another theological great writes, “Reason is itself a matter of faith. It is an act of faith to assert that our thoughts have any relation to reality at all” (Chesterton 29).
Understood and applied biblically, then, the Christian faith is not the irrational, unthinking thing that popular polemicists would like to make it. Instead, it starts with the exact same premise as modern science: that the world has a natural order built into it, which is itself intelligible to mankind, and is discernible through the careful application of reason. But Christianity also doesn’t stop here. It sees the order and intelligibility of the universe as a pointer to another world, or another plane of reality; to something—or rather Someone—else who is responsible for it all, and who transforms our understanding of even the mundane; where both faith and reason are raised to a higher level of thought and existence.
America's Changing Religious Landscape
The Pew Research Center
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The Pew Research Center
Factoring in Conversions & Birth Rates
Leah Libresco, FiveThirtyEight
The Real But Overstated Decline of American Christianity
Ross Douthat, The New York Times
The Religious States of America in 22 Maps
Niraj Chokshi, The Washington Post
As a message of judgment, the drama of the Apocalypse is as challenging as it is comforting. In his letters to the churches Christ suffers with them, but sees their sins. In his seals and trumpets he says that redemption is coming, but good people will die. In Act IV, he says that the dragon has been defeated, but still the one behind the curtain of Rome’s audacious claims to complete power. And in the seven bowls, God’s righteous judgment finally comes in its terrifying splendor—and he tells the churches it’s because of their prayers.
Primasius captures this well in his Commentary on the Apocalypse: “The very same bowls are said to hold both the sweetness of supplication and the wrath of destruction, for [prayers] are poured out from the saints for the coming of the kingdom of God, at which time the judgments of God will no longer be hidden” (15.7, ACCS; see Mat 6:10). So in the Redemption Chorus, John sees his people’s worship rising reverently into heaven, where both Father and Son can hear their songs and smell their prayers (Rev 5:8; Psa 141:2). But just three chapters later, these same embers are being poured out on God’s enemies: “Then the angel took the censer and filled it with fire from the altar and threw it on the earth, and there were peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning, and an earthquake” (Rev 8:5 ESV).
Even when the heavenly host sings praise to Christ, there are hints of judgment in their song: “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God” (Rev 12:10; see 7:10-12). And as with Satan, so with his minions: our deliverance means their destruction, God’s power means their perdition, his kingdom means their calamity, his authority means their assault, the accusers have become the accused. So as we often sing, it will be a bright day for some, a sad day for many—but a great day for the justice of the Lord.
But how can kind, godly people pray for another’s destruction? Surely, we can pray for deliverance from trial and tribulation, but what about, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Mat 5:44)? Peter Leithart asked this question recently in light of the ongoing turmoil in the Middle East:
But how should we pray?
So as the Lord himself says, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay” (Rom 12:19; see 12:14-21), and repay Rome he does. Just as in Egypt, the Lord has seen the oppression of his people and heard their prayers, and he will now deliver them from the house of bondage (Exo 3:7-10). His purpose thus remains the same as before: to be known as the one true God, and to give his enemies an opportunity to repent (Exo 7:1-5; Luke 13:3, 5). To this end, even the plagues reprise their roles: the sores (Exo 9:1-7), the blood (7:14-25), the darkness (10:21-29), the frogs (8:1-15), the hail (9:13-35)—together with a scorching sun. But, like Pharaoh before her, Rome does not repent (Rev 16:9, 11, 21; 9:20-21; see Exo 4:21; 8:19), so she would be defeated in battle (Rev 16:16; 17:14), her borders would be overrun (16:12; 9:13-19), and her empire would fall (16:19-20; 4:12-17; Dan 2:41-45).
The real battle we face as Christians, though, has never been a carnal conflict; it is a war for souls. So John tells the churches of Asia to prepare for the battle, not by arming themselves to the teeth, but by staying alert and keeping their garments white (Rev 16:15; see Mat 22:12-13; 24:42-43). Their battle would not won by feat of arms, but by the spiritual weapons of the Lord’s arsenal: truth, righteousness, the gospel of peace, faith, salvation, God’s word, and prayer (Eph 6:12-18). And as Leithart points out, such prayerful preparation is vital for every generation of Christians, because we know that when we pray for judgment, the Lord hears:
We live in a world where ISIS warriors behead Christians and release the film. We need an earthquake, and we should pray for it: “How long, holy and true, will you refrain from judging and avenging their blood? How long before you do some judging to prove you are Judge?” In the end, the message of the Psalms [and Revelation!—JMB] is Jesus’s post-[Resurrection] message: Fear not. Fear not: There is a God who judges. Fear not: God takes up the cause of the oppressed. Fear not: God raises the dead. (Leithart; see Rev 6:9-11; 1:17-18)
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Einstein’s example also demonstrates how this religious appreciation of mystery can inform scientific endeavors, that is, when exercised with caution. The first lesson to learn from Einstein’s example is a positive one: lowliness of mind precedes greatness of thought. He reminds us that while observation is key to a complete understanding, observation alone cannot answer the greatest questions posed by the natural world.
As Kuhn later discussed, each form of measurement is developed within (and therefore influenced by) a certain system of previous findings, assumptions, and so on. So while the scientist may accurately describe his observations within the framework of his own spatial and chronological position in the universe, such observations may not hold true if seen from another vantage point (Einstein, Foundation 1201-1203). In a more general sense, then, the goal of a scientist is not merely to describe his observations and formulate his theories from his own perspective, but to state (or restate) natural laws in a way that makes them universally applicable, regardless of variables in space and time (Einstein, Foundation 1203-1206). This is, in a nutshell, Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity.
Though such a claim is bold, Einstein succeeds by the force of his own humility as well as the simple beauty of his geometry (Einstein, Foundation 1237). What is perhaps even more impressive, though, is that he admits toward the end of his work that while his theory is surely correct (humility, after all, does not mean assuming you are wrong) it requires further astronomical and gravitational observations in order to be fully vetted (Einstein, Cosmological 1257-1258). Thus Einstein’s work combined an appreciation for the beauty and simplicity of good math with “the humble recognition that the ultimate word in science belongs to the facts, that is, to the observational verification of theories” (Jaki 36).
At its best, then, science is a continuing conversation on the cosmos that depends upon both personal humility and the willingness to accept that even the best theories are only potentialities in the absence of further verification. So while the universe will be and do what the universe is and does, the scientist must be ever mindful of his own finite nature and remember that his perspective is not the only valid vantage point. Einstein’s theory of relativity thus removes the self from the center of science, just as Copernicus moved the earth from the center of the universe. Humility, then, is the chief virtue for both the saint and the scientist, and begins to explain why scientists need something like methodological naturalism. Quite simply: scientists seek a comprehensive understanding of nature that is held accountable to the facts of nature itself.
But there is another side to this methodological naturalism that Einstein had more trouble with, which brings us to the second lesson we learn from his sense of mystery. While Einstein is still popularly regarded as the world’s favorite scientist, many within the scientific community have questioned his genius (even in his own time) due to his rejection of modern quantum theory. Though Einstein had several reasons for this rejection, the chief of these was that “it was probabilistic” (see Natarajan 660). At the core of this theory is the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, which states that, “The more precisely the position of something is defined, the less precisely its speed can be defined, and vice versa” (Hawking). So while we can measure the position and speed of an object with a fair degree of accuracy, we cannot always measure both at the same time, especially in situations where the very tools we use to measure can affect the outcome of the measurement.
Rarely does this principle affect us on a day-to-day basis, where approximation reigns, but on the micro level in a laboratory or the macro level in the heavens, such approximation must be recognized and understood before making far-reaching conclusions. Newtonian physics, though, did not understand this and therefore believed humanity capable of perfectly knowing the natural world. Coupled with the existence of immutable natural laws, Newtonian physics led to a worldview (modernism) in which certainty was not only possible in the present, but also in the past and future. If we know where an object is now and what rules govern its behavior, it was thought, we can find out where it was and where it is going.
In quantum theory, however, such is simply not the case: “The Uncertainty Principle . . . implies that even if one had all the information there is to be had about a physical system, its future behavior cannot be predicted exactly, only probabilistically” (Barr, Faith). Or as we have stated before, precision does not eliminate mystery—mystery moves in and around it.
Einstein’s rejection of quantum theory, however, was not due as much to its lack of mathematical or explanatory power (since it had both on its side), as to his own commitment to absolute determinism. As (in my view) a deist, “Einstein denounced positivism, endorsed a realist metaphysics [what you see is what you get], and professed his belief in the objectivity of physical reality” (Jaki 30). In fact, it was in part because of this pre-commitment to determinism that he could not bring himself to believe in a personal God:
If this Being is omnipotent, then every occurrence, including every human action, every human thought, and every human feeling and aspiration is also His work; how is it possible to think of holding men responsible for their deeds and thoughts before such an Almighty Being? In giving out punishments and rewards he would to a certain extent be passing judgement on Himself. How can this be combined with the goodness and righteousness ascribed to him? (Einstein, quoted in Brooke 946)
In other words, if all power belongs to God, then all we see happening around us is His work, everything good and everything evil. To Einstein, then, a personal God is either all-powerful or all-goodness, but cannot be both, and a God without all power is no God at all. Einstein therefore chose to believe in a non-personal, all-powerful God who knew and worked all things.
So while in theory he understood that individuals only possess a relative, partial view of the cosmos, he failed to realize that his own reliance on a “model of reality which shall represent events themselves” rather than probabilities, was itself the product of an isolated, dogmatic individualism rooted in post-Enlightenment rationalism (Brooke 950). Quantum theory, however, though silent on determinism per se, threatened to discredit both his personal and professional views on the subject. If precise measurement and understanding is unlikely, it required a modification of Newtonian science and Einstein’s own deistic interpretation of the world’s predictability. And though no quantum physicist would deny the knowability or predictability of science, Einstein simply could not bring himself to accept even this qualified approach to the world.
In other words, although Einstein’s general theory of relativity challenged Newton’s concept of time, Einstein dismissed these implications in order to maintain his own conception of God as an impersonal, self-sustaining and all-powerful being par excellence. As Barr points out, if true, quantum theory would be of the greatest “philosophical and theological importance” in that, “It would spell the doom of determinism” and eventually bring an end to purely materialist conceptions of human thought and action (Barr, Faith).
So while mystery was of utmost importance to the direction of Einstein’s thought, it points us to some very un-Einsteinian conclusions: “that the traditional Copenhagen interpretation of quantum theory . . . makes the most sense” and that its logical end may very well be the end of “physical determinism” and a renewed appreciation for the “special ontological status” of “the mind of the human observer” (Barr, Faith). So while the universe is self-evidently ordered, it is also dynamic—and therefore so is our understanding of the universe.
We conclude, then, with two observations about what Einstein’s example means for us today. First, science and religion have nothing to fear from one another when methodological naturalism is understood as the way scientists make authoritative claims about nature. On the side of science, this means science is accountable to what nature itself teaches, and we have nothing to fear from what they find there. On the side of faith, it also means that while we often want science to say something more than it does or even something different, that too will require additional research and verification. Einstein understood the first lesson well, but his incorrect views on God led him to reject the more accurate perspective provided by quantum theory, and we should learn from his example in both cases.
Good science and its inbuilt sense of mystery point to the rationality of faith, and our faith can and should inspire our views of nature, but where faith and science appear to disagree we should carefully examine the evidence on both sides to ensure we stand on the side of truth and the God who is truth. So whether we are studying the laws of nature or nature’s God, we ought to be continually impressed with the order of our world, the strong sense of mystery that surrounds it, and the unimaginable fortune we have in being part of it all. Einstein, of course, falls short of a fully Christian view of God or faith, but the mystery he discovered in nature points beyond the merely unknowable to the One whose wisdom and knowledge surpass all depths; whose judgments are unsearchable and whose ways are past finding out (Rom 11:33).