The Faithfulness of God in Science

May 01, 2019

by Vern Poythress

God’s Rule over All

But miracles are only the beginning of the ways in which we must reckon with God. The Bible indicates that God is intimately involved in the events of the world. He is involved not only in extraordinary, exceptional events, but in the most ordinary events. In his sovereign rule, he controls events both big and small, both natural and human. For a thorough confirmation of the reality of God’s control, readers may go to whole books devoted to the subject. Here, we may be content to cite a sampling of verses:

Among people who claim to be Christian, something akin to deism still exists in our time. It consists in the idea that, in most cases, created things are sufficient in themselves to develop under their own power.

You cause the grass to grow for the livestock
and plants for man to cultivate,
that he may bring forth food from the earth. (Ps. 104:14)

The lot is cast into the lap,
but its every decision is from the Lord. (Prov. 16:33)

But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? (Matt. 6:30)

For the Son of Man goes as it has been determined, but woe to that man by whom he is betrayed! (Luke 22:22)

For truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place. (Acts 4:27–28)

We also have verses that proclaim the comprehensive character of God’s control in general terms:

Who has spoken and it came to pass
unless the Lord has commanded it?
Is it not from the mouth of the Most High
that good and bad come? (Lam.3:37–38)

In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will. (Eph. 1:11)

In our time, deistic views are influenced by the predominance of science and its technological benefits.

Principles such as these do not appear in only one or two books of the Bible, but in many. They occur in both the Old Testament and the New Testament. They occur on the lips of Jesus as well as others.

This idea of the comprehensive rule of God contrasts with several alternatives that are common today. It contrasts with philosophical materialism, which believes that God does not exist. It contrasts with pantheism, which identifies the world with god (“The world is god.”). It contrasts also with deism.

Deism was a popular view in the eighteenth century. In its classical form, it postulated that God created the world but was thereafter uninvolved. This contrasts with the continuous involvement described in the Bible.

Among people who claim to be Christian, something akin to deism still exists in our time. It consists in the idea that, in most cases, created things are sufficient in themselves to develop under their own power. In other words, God is basically uninvolved in de-tailed development. A view of this kind does not completely deny the occurrence of miraculous intervention at key times—for example, in the resurrection of Christ. And it may affirm that God is continuously involved in sustaining each created thing in being. For example, it is surely correct that God sustains the existence of grass. But that is a minimal affirmation. The Bible says that “you cause the grass to grow for the livestock” (Ps. 104:14). God is causing the grass to grow, not just sustaining its existence. Or consider another illustration. The deistic view affirms that God sustains the existence of the wind and the water. Psalm 147:18 says that “he makes his wind blow and the waters flow.” This psalm depicts a far more vigorous and intimate involvement by God with specific events than what deistic views hold.

Science and Modern Deistic Thinking

In our time, deistic views are influenced by the predominance of science and its technological benefits. Science, it is thought, shows us what the world is like. And the world that it shows us is one in which most things undergo causal developments under their own power. That is, our world is either a world completely without God or a deistic world, in which God mostly leaves the world to its own inner working.

But such thinking is a product not of the scientific data, but of analyzing the scientific data in a deistic way. In other words, deism is built into the implicit framework that people assume and use when thinking about science. They interpret the process of causation as self-sufficient, ignoring the presence of God working all things according to his will (Eph. 1:11). They assume self-sufficiency rather than demonstrate it. By contrast, the person who genuinely believes that God is intimately involved in growing grass and making the winds blow sees scientific data as a description of the faithfulness of God. God is so faithful in the ways in which he makes grass grow and the winds blow that we can give detailed descriptions of the regularities. Scientists at their best are merely describing some of the regular ways that God comprehensively rules the world.

By contrast, the person who genuinely believes that God is intimately involved in growing grass and making the winds blow sees scientific data as a description of the faithfulness of God.

We may illustrate with an analogy. Let us suppose that a scientist undertakes to observe the patterns in my life and my wife’s. Every morning we get up at about seven thirty. This pattern continues for months. So the scientist formulates a law: these people get up at seven thirty. It seems to be a perfectly sound law, with no exceptions. But then one morning we get up at five thirty. Is this a “miracle”? Our rising at this hour certainly may seem exceptional, strange, and unaccountable. But then the scientist finds out that we got up at that hour because we had an early flight to catch. Our personal purposes, which normally involve regular hours of sleep, can be overridden at any point by other, more specialized personal purposes that deal with a situation that is important to us and for which it makes sense to deviate from our normal behavior. So it is with God. The consistency and “normality” of his rule over all things gives us the basis for our ability to predict the future and to live normal lives in a dependable world around us. The sun rises every day. There are indeed what theologians call “secondary causes,” as when one billiard ball knocks another ball and causes it to move, or when wind blows down a house (Job 1:19). God in his plan specifies these causal relations. But because God is personal, with personal purposes, the ties between his purposes and special situations can be the occasion for deviation from what we are accustomed to see. Personal rule is different from impersonal mechanism, though people may not always easily notice the difference.

Yes, people can tell themselves the tale that the regularities found by scientists are part of an impersonal mechanism rather than an expression and display of the faithfulness of God in his rule over all. But the tale is false. And it can be shown to be false, because the regularities themselves are rational and language-like, testifying to the personal nature of the God who specifies them.

We cannot dwell on these matters without a much more expansive explanation, which belongs to another book. For the moment, we can take note of the fact that modern deistic views differ radically from what the Bible depicts about God’s involvement.

Excerpted from Vern Poythress, Interpreting Eden: A Guide to Faithfully Reading and Understanding Genesis 1-3 (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2019), 30–32. Used with permission of the publisher.

Vern Poythress

Dr. Poythress (PhD, Harvard; DTh, Stellenbosch) is professor of New Testament interpretation at WTS.

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