Lessons from the Natural World

As we have determined in the last blog, science drives us to question the nature of God’s involvement in our natural world.  Mortimer J. Adler, in his book in which he asserts he proves the existence of God, contends that the individual components of the cosmos do not need a supernatural cause of their continued existence because natural causes and the law of inertia are sufficient to explain their existence. [1]  Science has had great success explaining even the non material elements of our world, such as our mental processes, by physical processes that are observable. [2]  In fact, materialism (the material world is all that exists) is the predominate view of science.  The scientist Laplace when so far as to note that God was a superfluous hypothesis in regards to what happens in the natural world. [3]

Religious people have a tendency to attribute anything beyond our knowledge or control to God.  This view is called the “God of the gaps”.  Any gap in our knowledge is automatically attributed to God.  However, the history of science teaches this tendency is not always accurate.  As we become more knowledgeable about our world, natural phenomena such as earthquakes, storms, and volcanoes, which were once thought to be “acts of God”, are now known to have natural causes and our former belief of God’s involvement was in error.  If history is any guide, science will, in the future, demonstrate what we now attribute to God has some natural cause.

The only way we can say God is involved in our natural world is that God created our world together with the laws that govern its continued existence and operation.  Because God is the ultimate cause, the Bible, as Rabbi Schulweis explains, attributes certain acts to God and omits mediating natural causes. [4]  We do the same in our lives.  As a businessperson I say I achieved a particular goal but more than likely someone who works for me followed my directions and did the actual work to make it happen.

Yes, there are times when God can intervene in nature.  Those incidents we call miracles.  However, we must take miracles on faith because as C. S. Lewis states our senses and history cannot prove a miracle occurred. [5]  The human condition tells us that our senses are easily fooled and our knowledge of history is limited.  So miracles are of limited use in teaching us about God’s involvement in this world.  What miracles do teach is us that since God makes rare use of them, he is mainly working through the existing structure of our world (the natural world) to accomplish his purposes.

What kind of world would we live in if it was not governed by natural laws?  Would not such a world where God intervened miraculously on a regular basis appear to us to be arbitrary and very irrational?  How could we hope to comprehend such a world?  We prefer good scientific explanations over good supernatural explanations because of our desire for regularity, repeatability, and sound expectation. [6]  If the universe was not deterministic, would our science have ever advanced?  Would we have ever developed our rational abilities?

The Bible says God is involved in the natural world but as we learn more about our world, we discover that natural laws govern the universe and God appears to have nothing to do with it.  God teaches us many lessons through the physical world.  The best example is Job.  God asks Job a series of questions about the natural world to demonstrate to him his lack of knowledge.  Then God uses that lesson to teach Job about spiritual matters.  If we were wrong in attributing natural phenomena to God, might not our belief that God causes certain events in our personal life have some other natural explanation?  Could it be true that God’s direct intervention in our lives is very rare?


[1]   Mortimer J. Adler, How To Think About God (New York:  Bantam Books, 1982), pp. 123-125.

[2]   Alburey Castell and Donald M. Borchert, An Introduction to Modern Philosophy:  Examining the Human Condition (New York:  Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc., 1983), p. 47.

[3]   Joe Jackson, A World on Fire (New York:  Viking, 2005), p. 153.

[4]   Harold M. Schulweis,  For Those Who Can’t Believe (New York:  HarperPerennial, 1994), pp. 74-75.

[5]   C. S. Lewis, Miracles:  A Preliminary Study (New York:  HarperCollins Publishers, Inc., 1947), pp. 1-3.

[6]   Roy Weatherford, The Implications of Determinism (New York:  Routledge, 1991), p. 237.

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