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Scientists, Atheism, and God: Not Quite What You Think


Scientist Stephen Hawking, one of the smartest men in the world, did not believe in God. Well, how about other smart scientists—what do they think?

We often hear these days that there’s a fundamental conflict between science and religion, and that scientists don’t believe in God. As the late Stephen Hawking says in his new book, “Brief Answers to the Big Questions,” “There is no God. No one directs the universe.” There’s only one problem with this narrative—’’it’s not true. Don’t believe me; just ask scientists!

Elaine Howard Ecklund, director of Rice University’s Religion and Public Life Program has done just that, and she worries that the posthumously published words of Hawking, who died earlier this year, may lead you to believe that most scientists are atheists.

“Stephen Hawking left a great scientific legacy,” Ecklund said. “I do not think it is the intent of this recent work, but it is dangerous for science if Hawking’s religious legacy is to leave the public with the impression that scientists are all against God or—worse yet—against religious people.”

Between 2011 and 2016, Ecklund and her team conducted the first-ever international survey on what scientists think about religion. They found, contrary to popular wisdom, that over half of all the scientists in India, Italy, and Turkey self-identify as religious, and only a minority of scientists in each region say that science and religion are in conflict. In the U.S., this number is just 29 percent.

According to Brandon Vaidyanathan, associate professor and chair of the sociology department at the Catholic University of America, “We found a significant portion of scientists can be characterized as having religious identities, practices or beliefs, and nontrivial proportions say they have ‘no doubt’ that God exists.”

This makes sense on a number of levels. First of all, the Bible says that the heavens declare the glory of God, and that anyone can learn something of God’s nature by what He has created. So even though some scientists say that the theory of evolution has made the idea of God unnecessary—Richard Dawkins for example once said that “Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist”—the fact is, people inherently know that God exists, and they must suppress this truth if they’re going to claim atheism. This goes for scientists, as well.

Second, scientists are learning just how “fine-tuned” the universe has to be in order to support life of any kind, never mind intelligent life. 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. It strains credulity past the breaking point to believe that all this “just happened”!

Third, of course, is the obvious fact that modern science sprang from rich Christian soil. Many of our greatest scientists were or are Christians, including Roger Bacon, Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo, Descartes, Blaise Pascal, Gregor Mendel, Lord Kelvin, John Lennox, and Francis Collins. These scientists, and many more, understood from their Christian worldview that the universe is orderly and intelligible because God created it according to definite laws and endowed mankind—created in His own image—with the ability to study and explore it—and glorify Him.

Stephen Hawking was one of the world’s smartest men, but as far as we know, tragically, he remained an atheist to his dying day—although, interestingly, his memorial service was held at a church, and his ashes were buried at Westminster Abbey near the remains of Isaac Newton, another great scientist who claimed the Christian faith.

Once Hawking said that to know the ultimate why of the universe would be to know the “mind of God.” While Hawking later said that he had been speaking figuratively and that God doesn’t exist, let’s cherish the incredible privilege we have, as Christians, to know not only the mind of God, but His heart: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”

BreakPoint is a Christian worldview ministry that seeks to build and resource a movement of Christians committed to living and defending Christian worldview in all areas of life. Begun by Chuck Colson in 1991 as a daily radio broadcast, BreakPoint provides a Christian perspective on today’s news and trends via radio, interactive media, and print. Today BreakPoint commentaries, co-hosted by Eric Metaxas and John Stonestreet, air daily on more than 1,200 outlets with an estimated weekly listening audience of eight million people. Feel free to contact us at BreakPoint.org where you can read and search answers to common questions.

Eric Metaxas is a co-host of BreakPoint Radio and a best-selling author whose biographies, children's books, and popular apologetics have been translated into more than a dozen languages.

Publication date: November 16, 2018

Photo courtesy: Holger Link/Unsplash

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