A PERSONAL GOD, VIEWED SCIENTIFICALLY (C. 1958)

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Excerpted from The Evidence of God in an Expanding Universe, edited by John Clover Monsma. New York: G.P. Putman’s Sons, 1958

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A PERSONAL GOD, VIEWED SCIENTIFICALLY

By John Leo Abernethy, Research Chemist

M.Sc, Ph.D., Northwestern University; has taught at Hum­boldt State College and California State Polytech. College; now Professor of Chemistry, Fresno State College, Cali­fornia; Associate Editor, Journal of Chemical Education. Specialist in unsaturated compounds of a conjugate nature, carbohydrates, orientation influences in the halogenation of substituted biphenyls.

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In our modern times we have developed a razor-sharp approach in solving problems, once they become clearly defined and meaningful. We have also learned that semantics, or the meaning of words, depends upon our five sensory experiences, namely taste, touch, smell, sound and sight. Each of us must necessarily live in at least moderately different environments. Hence, in extreme cases the word “house” might mean a cave to people on the outskirts of Chihuahua City or a castle on a hillside to a newspaper tycoon in California¹.

The question “Is there a God?” ought to be answered in terms of the meaning of the word God. Let me venture to suggest that if by this term we mean only the law and order of the universe, then we are talking about the same thing that the communists believe in. They believe in the law and order of the universe. But they also recognize that you can pray forever to the periodic table of the elements and none of those elements, independently or in combination, could by themselves lift one finger to answer such a prayer, regard­less of how psychologically self-inspiring that prayer might be. Neither do I mean the God of fantasy of nearly all the world’s great religions.

The only God in whom I can have a grain of confidence is the God of the Hebrew-Christian faith—the only personal God who could possibly be interested in each one of us on this minute speck of the universe we call Earth.

Is this God real or a myth? Did He ever make himself known in the mainline stream of man’s history on the earth? These questions hinge on the question “Was Christ more than a man?” The manner in which we coordinate our thoughts concerning the universe depends on how we answer this latter question. We can use the same scientific method in including or excluding a personal God.

If I take the position that Christ was merely a human being and the miraculous events written about Him were myths, then I may reasonably construct a universe based on sensory experiences and make daring guesses as to how the universe is constituted. The scientific method combines the deductive logic of Aristotle (B.C. 335) with the inductive logic of Sir Francis Bacon (A.D. 1620), as subsequently modified by men of science. In deductive logic I go from a major premise and a minor premise to a conclusion. For instance, all neutral carbon atoms contain six electrons; this is a neutral carbon atom; therefore, this atom contains six electrons. In inductive logic I go from facts to laws to hy­potheses (which contain postulates, or in absolute scientific truths).

If deductions from these “truths” turn out to be reason­able, a hypothesis rests on firmer ground and is consequently often named a theory. Knowable facts are statements of results of reproducible, sensory experiences (or in a formal or scientific sense, experiments). For instance, it is a fact that water is composed of 11.1 percent hydrogen and 88.9 percent oxygen, because various experiments can reproduce these results. Laws are generalizations of known facts. The law of definite composition, for instance, generalizes that every pure compound (water, table salt, and cane sugar) contains the same percentage composition of its constituent elements by weight.

Theories are mental pictures that explain known laws. Our chief theories that dominate modern thought are the kinetic molecular theory, the atomic theory, the theory of evolution, the theory of relativity, and the quantum theory. The atomic theory originally was based on the law of definite composi­tion and the law of multiple proportions. The in absolute truths of Dalton‘s (1806) original theory (or hypothesis) had to be modified when the atom was found to be divisible into sub-atomic particles (electrons, neutrons, etc.), and when isotopes (as heavy and light hydrogen) were discovered.

Theories lead on to systematically organized bodies of knowledge called sciences. An integration of sciences that relates man to his universe is called a philosophy. If Chris­tianity is taken to be largely mythical, a philosophy could become materialistic—perhaps involving a finite, expanding universe, or something closely akin to this. Good and evil would have no absolute meaning; just because you or I call something good doesn’t make it so. Man’s behavior would be neutral, just as that of any other animal, or any plant.

Now, I choose to take Christianity as genuine. To be sent from God, Christ must present an authentic passport of identification, namely His virgin birth. A little experimenta­tion with deductive logic would establish Him as an odd product of evolution, undoubtedly illegitimately born, if this is not so. He gave evidence, through reproducible experi­ences of many witnesses, that He was the Son of God, not just by a good life, but by healing the blind, feeding the multitudes, being raised from the dead, and ascending into Heaven with a promise of return, thus rightfully claiming “I am the way, the truth and the life; no man cometh unto the Father but by Me.”

This being so, there is every reason to believe that God is love, and that He is a spirit (John 4: 24). But a spirit does not have flesh and bones (Luke 24: 39). If you were God, trying to explain spiritual things to human beings, utterly devoid of universal experience, hemmed in by their limited sensory experiences of five senses, and lacking in dimensional concepts other than space-time, what would you do? You would interpret spiritual things in terms of those five senses and four dimensions, with evident gaps. Heaven would be like a city with streets of transparent gold and certain gates of single pearls, or a fantastically commodious house combin­ing many mansions. The fact that God is in the midst of believers gathered in His Name suggests a presence like that of a dearly beloved friend, out of sight but within conversa­tional distance. Obviously His presence is more than that, but it is not detectable through ordinary sensory experimen­tation and only partly understood. How different our present interpretation of the universe would be if we had ten other senses besides the five we have, each as different as sight is from sound!

Good and evil have no absolute meaning in materialistic concepts. Bombing human life out of existence would not be wrong in any absolute sense because all life would presum­ably come to an end in the due course of time, anyway. Perhaps thousands, or even millions, of planets with life su­perior to our own would have come to a tragic close by being overheated, supercooled, or subjected to devastation by a minute cosmic ripple.

On the other hand, if God spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai and to others at significant periods of history, good and evil have absolute meaning, and redemption is essential. Science, in order to be complete, must include this true God.

One cannot help but think in this connection of Paul the Apostle, born and raised in the highly intellectual center of Tarsus and recipient of a splendid education in Jerusalem-one cannot help but think of him in advanced age writing from Laodicea to his spiritual son Timothy and admonishing him with all the fervor of his dedicated soul: “O Timothy, keep that which is committed to thy trust, avoiding profane and vain babblings, and opposition of science falsely so called!” (I Timothy 6: 20) What Paul probably had in mind, chiefly, was the philosophy and science of the Stoics, one of whose high seats of learning was in Tarsus where the apostle received his early training, and whose teachings concerning the universe were utterly materialistic. To them, matter and force were the ultimate principles in the universe. Their sages in numerous stoas taught that man should ignore and put himself above any “unrealistic” feelings such as love, sympathy, compassion.

It should not take too keen a mind to identify their coun­terparts in our modern world.

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¹ This is a reference to American newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst

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