Perspectives

Science, God, and the improbability of life

This past Christmas, the Wall Street Journal ran an essay of mine entitled “Science Increasingly Makes the Case for God.” The content will be familiar to those who have read my latest book, “Miracles.”

I noted that the initial euphoria over the possibility that there were a septillion — that’s one followed by 24 zeros — planets capable of supporting life in the universe was followed by the sober fact that such planets, never mind evidence of extraterrestrial life, are exceedingly rare.

That’s because science has learned just how “fine-tuned” the universe has to be in order to support life of any kind, never mind intelligent life.

As I wrote in the Journal, “Today there are more than 200 known parameters necessary for a planet to support life—every single one of which must be perfectly met,” or our existence would be utterly impossible.

Yet, not only do we exist, we’re discussing the fact that we exist, which prompted me to ask, “What can account for” all of this? and “Doesn’t assuming that an intelligence created these perfect conditions actually require far less faith than believing that a life-sustaining Earth just happened to beat the inconceivable odds to come into being?”

Well, the response to the column was overwhelming. The piece really went viral and garnered more “likes” on Facebook than any article the Wall Street Journal has ever published—over  350,000 as I read this now! I find that amazing and more than a little humbling.

Not surprisingly, the piece had plenty of critics. One scientist wrote to the Journal complaining about “religious arguments for the existence of God thinly veiled as scientific arguments” and “allowing a Christian apologist to masquerade as a scientist.”

This objection, which I’m told figured prominently in the comments section at the Journal, essentially amounts to saying that only scientists should be allowed to talk about the religious implications of scientific things. Scientists, it seems, can dabble as metaphysicians, philosophers, and theologians, but not vice-versa.

This is the foregone conclusion even when the person of faith is merely citing scientific findings, as I did. However, this objection is not rooted in science but in scientism, which holds that “empirical science constitutes the most authoritative worldview or most valuable part of human learning to the exclusion of other viewpoints.”

The criticism wasn’t limited to comments from atheistic scientists. Several religious believers, including those whose work I respect, took me to task for saying that science can “prove” the existence of God, much less the God of the Bible. As one Christian philosopher put it, a god whose existence can be proved scientifically isn’t God.

That is true, which is why I’m happy that I never said anything resembling that. What I did was point to the sheer improbability of our existence and ask whether it might not be reasonable to infer, like Fred Hoyle, who coined the phrase “Big Bang,” whether the universe might be, as he put it, a “put up job.”

The scientific findings I cited aren’t “proof” that compel belief in God’s existence but “signs” pointing to that possibility and inviting you to follow them to see where they might lead.

In the end, belief in God, especially the biblical God, is an act of faith. But so too is believing that our existence is simply the result of chance. Like it or not.

Eric Metaxas— by Eric Metaxas

Eric Metaxas is currently the voice of Breakpoint, a radio commentary (www.breakpoint.org) that is broadcast on 400 stations with an audience of eight million. Copyright© 2014 Prison Fellowship Ministries. Reprinted with permission. BreakPoint is a ministry of Prison Fellowship Ministries

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