Dr Denis R. Alexander, Emeritus Director of The Faraday Institute for Science and Religion, Cambridge
I have spent the past 40 years in the science research community and I find it surprising that I sometimes still encounter the comment, “How can you be a scientist and believe in God?” I find this curious because science was largely established by believers.
The great flowering of modern science can be traced back to the Islamic science that was so influential in the 9th to 13th centuries, followed later by the so-called “scientific revolution” that has its roots in Christian Europe from the 16th century onwards.
Many of the great names in the history of science were people of faith – such as Robert Boyle, founder of modern chemistry; the astronomers Kepler and Galileo; naturalists such as John Ray and Linnaeus and many in the physical sciences such as Isaac Newton, Michael Faraday, Clerk Maxwell, Lord Kelvin and Arthur Eddington.
These scientists wrote much about how their science was motivated and supported by their faith. Astronomers, wrote Kepler, are “the priests of God, called to interpret the Book of Nature”.
Scientists who believe in God today are following in a long tradition. Being a believer within the scientific community is a very natural place for the believer to be. Scientific knowledge has no rivalry with theological knowledge for the simple reason that science represents our human attempts to understand how God’s world works.
The more we understand scientifically, the greater our wonder at this amazing universe. Asking theological questions and asking scientific questions is like looking out of two different windows at the same reality, providing different perspectives.
Science aims to take things apart to understand how they work. Theology puts the pieces back together again to understand their meaning. Science reveals a universe that is intelligible with properties that can be described by beautiful mathematical equations. As Einstein put it, “The most incomprehensible thing about the world is that it is comprehensible.”
It is therefore very rational to believe in a great Mind behind all that exists – the one whom believers call God. And the whole idea of scientific laws has deep theological roots. Speaking of “scientific laws” acts as a reminder that God is the ultimate source of the regularity of the properties of matter, without which the scientific enterprise itself would be impossible.
Science does not “prove God”, for science itself is simply describing the works of God. God is the Author of creation. Without God, there would be no book – no existence and no science – so believing that all that exists has an author is as rational as believing that a human book has a human author. And the emergence of human minds that can understand and appreciate the intelligibility of this wonderful universe is likewise consistent with the idea that the universe has an author.
Believing in a personal, creator God as the author of the universe is simply the best explanation for the intelligibility of all that we see and observe.
Dr Denis is an Emeritus Director of the Faraday Institute at the University of Cambridge and author of Rebuilding the Matrix – Science and Faith in the 21st Century. He also supervised a research group in cancer and immunology at the Babraham Institute.