Two weeks ago, the Wall Street Journal published an article entitled “ God and Science Don’t Mix ” written by a physicist named Lawrence M. Krauss. I wrote a reply, which the Journal decided not to run. The text of my reply is given below. Those who read the Krauss article should be warned that Krauss makes a false insinuation about the views on miracles and the Virgin Birth of Br. Guy Consolmagno, a Jesuit astrophysicist at the Vatican Observatory. I e-mailed Br. Guy and he assured me that Krauss completely misrepresented his views.

Here is the reply to Krauss that the Wall Street Journal decided not to run:

My fellow particle physicist Lawrence Krauss has argued that “God and science don’t mix.” He began with an interesting statement of J.B.S. Haldane, an eminent biologist of the last century:

“My practice as a scientist is atheistic. That is to say, when I set up an experiment I assume that no god, angel or devil is going to interfere with its course.”

Scientists are atheists in the lab, said Krauss, and so it is only logical that they should be atheists everywhere. This is a logical argument, yes, and also quite popular, but it is based on a conception of God that is alien to Jewish and Christian tradition. For Haldane and Krauss, religion is about miracles, and miracles are about magic and the irrational, and therefore belief in God stands in opposition to the world revealed by science, a world intelligible by reason and governed by law.

For Jews and Christians, however, pitting God and the laws of nature against each other in this way is an absurd mistake; for it is the very lawfulness of nature that points to a divine Lawgiver. In the Bible, God gives laws not only to the people of Israel, but to the cosmos itself, as in Jeremiah 33:25, where he declares his fidelity to Israel in these terms: “When I have no covenant with day and night, and have given no laws to heaven and earth, then too will I reject the descendants of Jacob and of my servant David.”

In arguing against pagans for the existence of a creator God, ancient Christian writers pointed to the order and lawfulness of nature, not to the miraculous. The following passage from the second-century writer Minucius Felix is typical:

If upon entering some home you saw that everything there was well-tended, neat, and decorative, you would believe that some master was in charge of it, and that he was himself much superior to those good things. So too in the home of this world, when you see providence, order, and law in the heavens and on earth, believe that there is a Lord and Author of the universe, more beautiful than the stars themselves and the various parts of the whole world.

The fourth pope, Clement, writing to the Church in Corinth in A.D. 97, used the lawfulness of the cosmos to illustrate his point that peace and harmony come from obedience to God’s laws: “Sun, moon, and the starry choirs roll on in harmony at His command, none swerving from his appointed orbit . . . . Laws of the same kind sustain the fathomless deeps . . . . The impassable Ocean and all the worlds that lie beyond it are themselves ruled by the like ordinances of the Lord.” For Christians, this cosmic order is the work of the divine Logos or Reason: “In the beginning was the Logos , and the Logos was with God, and the Logos was God. Through him all things were made.” (John 1:1-3)

Modern science was founded by men, such as Kepler, Galileo, Boyle, and Newton, who were devoutly religious and saw themselves as uncovering these ordinances of divine reason. Indeed, in his book The Harmony of the World , Kepler announced one of his laws of planetary motion with this prayer: “I thank thee, Lord God our Creator, that thou allowest me to see the beauty in thy work of creation.” This remained the typical attitude of scientists for centuries to come. The two greatest physicists of the nineteenth century, Faraday and Maxwell (whose portraits hung in Einstein’s study, alongside Newton’s), were deeply devout even by the standards of their day. Science and God have continued to mix down through the twentieth century to our own time. The great mathematician and physicist Hermann Weyl, a contemporary of Haldane, said in a 1931 lecture, “Many people think that modern science is far removed from God. I find, on the contrary, that . . . in our knowledge of physical nature we have penetrated so far that we can obtain a vision of the flawless harmony which is in conformity with sublime reason.”

What then of miracles? Doesn’t belief in them make nonsense of everything I have just said? On the contrary; there is no logical contradiction in believing in both natural laws and miracles; for if the laws of nature are God’s ordinances to begin with, then what he has ordained he may also suspend. Indeed, to speak of a miracle in the absence of law would be meaningless. Nor is there a historical contradiction between the two ideas, as is shown by the fact that many of the fundamental laws of physics were discovered by and named after men who believed in miracles. It would doubtless surprise Krauss to learn that quite a number of highly respected physicists in his (and my) own field of particle physics and cosmology are devout Christians who believe in miracles.

In the Christian view, miracles are not mere outbreaks of lawlessness in nature that happen in an utterly capricious way. Since only God can suspend his own laws, miracles are always divine acts, and serve a divine purpose. In the Bible and Christian tradition, that purpose is always to manifest God’s love and mercy, and to attest to the authority of singular figures who teach or act in his name. Miracles are thus exceedingly rare events, fraught with deeply symbolic religious significance. The idea that God would interfere in the scientific experiments of Haldane or anyone else, as if he were a mischievous imp or poltergeist, is utterly silly from a Christian point of view. And to consider the fact that he doesn’t do so an argument for atheism is on a par with Khrushchev’s triumphant announcement that the cosmonauts had not seen God in outer space.

God can indeed be found in the laboratory, if one looks where Hermann Weyl looked”to “the flawless harmony which is in conformity with sublime reason.”

Stephen M. Barr, a member of the editorial advisory board of First Things , is professor of physics at the Bartol Research Institute.

blog comments powered by Disqus