In Search of the God of the Gasps
By John Halford
Three thousand years ago, King David looked up into the heavens and was moved to write with jaw-dropping awe:
“The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.”1
He actually couldn’t see much of it. Without a telescope, you can only see a few thousand stars, the moon, an occasional comet or meteorite and five of the planets. So how much more, then, can we who have looked out to the very edge of the universe, and discovered trillions of stars in billions of galaxies, supernovae, quasars and black holes, proclaim the work of God’s hands?
It must be exciting to be a scientist today. It must be even more exciting to be a scientist who believes in God.
“By taking a long and thoughtful look at what God has created, people have always been able to see what their eyes as such can’t see: eternal power, for instance, and the mystery of his divine being,”2 wrote Paul, long before anyone had explored that Creation through the lenses of powerful telescopes on the ground and in space, electron microscopes and particle colliders. Using those instruments to enhance our senses, we have discovered hitherto undreamed-of levels of beauty and intricacy in the shimmering web of energy that underlies what we experience as physical matter and life.
It must be exciting to be a scientist today. It must be even more exciting to be a scientist who believes in God, able to examine the natural world through eyes that recognize the work of the great Master Architect. How sad then, that so many believers see science as a threat and scientists as enemies of faith.
God in the Gaps
Nowhere is this more acute than in the ongoing battle between evolution and the first chapter of Genesis. Traditionally, opponents of evolution have pointed to the “gaps” in the theory, and highlighted these gaps as clear evidence of the need for a Creator. They do not seem to be aware that research has closed many of those gaps, and others are under investigation. Like it or not, the evidence is mounting that evolution through natural selection is the way life develops. There have been many refinements and modifications since The Origin of Species was published in 1859, but it does now look as if Charles Darwin did not get it all wrong.
There need be no conflict between good science and faith in God. The world needs both, and never more so than now, as the next generation must face up to some unprecedented challenges. We desperately need fresh thinking and new ideas. We need to encourage Christian young men and women to join in the quest for scientific breakthroughs and new technologies. We need people motivated to use what they discover to serve their fellow human beings with humility, and treat their environment with respect.
Some scientists recognize this. In a remarkably frank book, The Trouble with Physics, physicist Lee Smolin explains what he believes is wrong with his field of expertise — theoretical physics. After guiding us through some of the revolutionary ideas that are being examined at the cutting edge of research, Smolin admits that progress has bogged down. The reason, he believes, is that many of his colleagues are blocking progress by clinging to obsolete ideas.
He says: “I believe there is something basic we are all missing, some wrong assumption we are all making. If this is so, we need to isolate the wrong assumption and replace it with a new idea.”3
Smolin’s plea to his fellow physicists is that they not throttle the next generation of researchers. “The worst thing we could do would be to hold them back by insisting they work with our ideas.”4
Can we, as Christians, commissioned to bring the good news of the gospel to the world, speak with the same openness and candor?
As with theoretical physics, we cannot afford to hold back our best young people by trapping them in hidebound concepts and anti-scientific worldviews. What the world needs now is not more people to desperately defend the increasingly beleaguered “God of the Gaps.” We need our best minds to join in the quest for innovation and discovery, and then stand back occasionally from what they are discovering in awe of the God of all Creation and gasp, “How great Thou art.”
1 Psalm 19:1.
2 Romans 1:20, New Living Translation.
3 Lee Smolin, The Trouble with Physics, p. 256.
4 Ibid., p. 258.