By Martha Simmons
Correspondent, The Alabama Baptist
Lord, I believe; help my unbelief” (Mark 9:24).
Skeptics have been around since the dawn of man’s belief in God, even as a father was desperately seeking a miracle cure from Jesus for his child, as evidenced in this Bible verse.
Despite a rising tide of secularism and unbelief, some scientists and academics contend God’s existence is not only probable, it is a logical explanation of such nonphysical concepts as mathematics and human consciousness.
Noted economist Robert H. Nelson, a professor of public policy at the University of Maryland in College Park, addressed that topic in his 2015 book, “God? Very Probably: Five Rational Ways to Think About the Question of a God.”
In the book and in recent articles, Nelson contends math operates in a “god-like fashion” and that scientists still cannot explain why the observable natural order follows a precise mathematical calculus.
‘Religion has become central’
In a recent interview with The Alabama Baptist, the Princeton-educated economist said religion had become central to his public writings since the 1980s. “I decided to take that to the next level. It was also a matter of personal fascination with the ‘God question’ and the fact that I think by writing,” he said.
So how does mathematics indicate that God exists? Like God, mathematical laws are not proven by the physical world.
Mathematics exists independent of physical reality, and modern mathematics generally is formulated before any natural observances are made to prove them, Nelson said. “Einstein’s general theory of relativity, for example, was based on theoretical mathematics developed 50 years earlier by the great German mathematician Bernhard Riemann that did not have any known practical applications at the time of its intellectual creation.”
Moreover, Nelson pointed out, Isaac Newton spent a lifetime trying to find a natural explanation for his mathematical law of gravity, based in part on his discovery of calculus, but ultimately concluded that it was simply God’s will, Nelson wrote.
“Like mathematics, the events in human consciousness have no measurable spatial and temporal dimensions,” Nelson said. One leading atheist, frustrated that he couldn’t reconcile his own scientific materialism with the existence of the nonphysical world of human consciousness, simply denied that consciousness even exists.
Nelson said he was somewhat skeptical about the existence of God when he embarked on “God? Very Probably.” As he wrote it, however, he came to believe in God and now considers himself “a Christian but in quite unconventional ways.”
Mobile-based Kenneth G. McLeod, a Christian apologist who is a Southern Baptist, has written five books on the subject and employed similar arguments from physics, human consciousness, evolutionary biology, mathematics and the history of religion and theology to defend the existence of God. He goes further than Nelson, however, contending there certainly is a God and Christianity is the only religion that can make sense of God’s existence.
“I am trained in theology, mathematics and statistics and I believe that the natural world has an underlining mathematical structure that does not comport with random, unguided, unintelligent input,” McLeod told The Alabama Baptist. “In my early years as an adult Christian, there were many scientists affirming a conflict between God and science. As a proponent of Christianity and science, this concerned me. I needed to reconcile this conflict, and in doing so, I found a world of evidence that supports my Christian faith,” McLeod said.
“The Bible does contradict a few scientific theories but not any scientific facts. The Bible does not say the world is flat or the earth is the center of the universe. Obviously the main conflict is over the existence of God, the origin of the universe and the origin of all life,” McLeod said.
“But these questions are outside the scope of empirical scientific inquiry. This is not a scientific argument at all but a disagreement on the philosophical interpretation of science. As a result the ‘war’ between science and Christianity is mostly a ruse.”
There’s room for both skeptics and those operating on “faith alone” under Christianity’s big tent.
“Many Christians, especially Christian apologists like myself, are skeptics by nature. The foundation of my apologetics ministry is that Christianity is the only world religion that can stand up to skepticism and rational enquiry,” McLeod said. “In the second century Justin Martyr explained the process between faith and reason for the Christian like this: ‘A man seeks the truth by the unaided effort of reason and is disappointed. The truth is offered to him by faith and he accepts. And having accepted he finds that it satisfies his reason.’”
Troy Henderson, who teaches mathematics at the Baptist-affiliated University of Mobile, said he brings his faith into the classroom.
“I like to share the gospel with my students during the first day of class each semester. This not only exposes the students to the truth of the gospel, but it also demonstrates my position as a Christian mathematician,” Henderson said. “With this foundation I make myself available for discussion about the truth of God in His word.
“My biblical worldview provides me with examples of how God manifests Himself through His creation and specifically through mathematics which is used to artistically and scientifically describe and model His creation. Several of these examples include the description of the molten/brazen sea, the golden ratio, the Fibonacci sequence, the golden spiral and radiocarbon dating. Each of these topics are used to give testimony to specific passages or general principles in Scripture, and these testimonies provide deeper understanding of many of the attributes of God.”
Henderson has not encountered any secular pushback for his Christian viewpoint in the world of mathematics.
“Unlike many of the sciences, pure mathematics is essentially void of faith-based topics that may be considered controversial. However, applied mathematics can be controversial when addressing scientific topics such as the age of the universe/earth, creationism/evolution and climate change,” Henderson said. “Since my areas of research have little overlap with these controversial topics, I have not encountered criticism from secular academics. If future research prompts controversy, then my understanding of God and His purpose for me, through the His word, will serve as my guide in responding to criticism.”
Henderson contends that studying the Scriptures rather than mathematics provides the answers to the most puzzling of questions.
“As much as I have learned about and enjoy mathematics, I have to say that mathematics is not the most important discipline of study,” Henderson said. “Rather I am convinced that the study of theology is man’s noblest pursuit since it is the critical and rigorous study of who God is and man’s relationship to Him.
“I have observed that most theists regard God as simply a supernatural being, and their beliefs and convictions about who He is are based on instinct and intuition (their own and/or those of others). However, I am dogmatic in my belief that if I am to know anything about God (whether His existence or any of His attributes), it must be because He has chosen to reveal Himself. The Lord has chosen to reveal Himself in four ways: in His word, in creation, through conscience and in Christ.”