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  • Ty Rostvedt

Science, Sunsets, and the Supernatural

There is a familiar story in the Bible about Jesus calming a storm (Mark 4:35-41). His disciples wake Him up from His nap on the boat and He turns and speaks to the wind and the waves, “Be still!” and they immediately calm down. Wouldn’t it be great to control the weather like that? I’d keep it sunny and 75 degrees all day every day and I’d keep those pesky storms away. I’d use the wind to blow all the leaves out of my yard. And winter, well, winter can just disappear altogether.

So, the idea of controlling the weather seems preposterous, but, of course, the Bible records this story as though it literally happened. How? Today, we understand how weather patterns work. Storms build momentum and then slowly dissipate over time. There’s no way for a storm to stop in its tracks and certainly not on account of any one person.

The relationship between science and faith is an interesting one. Many scientists today accept what is known as methodological naturalism. Methodological naturalism asserts that, to qualify as scientific, a theory must be explained by strictly physical or material (i.e. non-intelligent or non-purposive) causes. In other words, the only permissible explanations within scientific research and argument are those that use natural processes and laws. There is no place for religious references.

Science primarily looks at the natural world and focuses on what is observable and what produces proof through experimentation. For example, physicians test drugs on patients and wait to see how the patient reacts or responds to the new drug. If they don’t get the results they were anticipating, they mark it down and try something else until they find the drug that works. Science also helps us explain the way we view our world. A scientist can gaze at a sunset and describe how the earth rotates around the sun in our solar system causing the sun to “set” even though the Earth is the thing moving. A scientist could also explain how the atmosphere transmits various colors of light away from his vision, which makes the sky appear more red and orange. Meteorologists study weather patterns and draw conclusions based on the data. The scientific process is a wonderful thing, and has led to countless inventions and advancements in technology (like how my cell phone reports the weather forecast…if only my weather app had a “stop raining” option).

Some scientists might assert that this type of knowledge eliminates our need for a God or gods because these explanations fill the gap that ages past used to fill with supernatural causes. Faith in the supernatural is supposedly something that the uneducated use in order to fill in the gaps of which they weren’t sure how to otherwise explain something. We used to think the “rain god” made it rain, but now we understand how the water cycle works so we say goodbye to the “rain god” and hello to evaporation and precipitation.

The science community today might regard faith in the supernatural as nice, but since it deals with unobservable data and cannot be verified through experimentation, therefore, it is of no use today. However, the notion that modern science eliminates the need for God is unfounded and, frankly, jumping to another category for which methodological naturalism is not allowed to dabble. If methodological naturalism is true, it cannot assert whether a God is involved because it is moving outside of its own defined field.

Ultimately, what we all want is truth, and no matter how one defines science, it should include the search for truth. If we can agree with this, there is no need to eliminate God from the picture. A scientist may decry that there is no evidence for God, yet that very sunset they study is great evidence that God, in fact, does exist. We can stare at the sunset and talk about light particles and the rotation of the earth on one hand, and on the other hand we can declare, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands” with equal truthfulness (Psalm 19:1). In fact both explanations are essential for a thorough and textured understanding of the natural world. Declaring that science itself is enough to remove the need for God would be like declaring that since you have braces you have no need for an orthodontist.

The Bible affirms that God knows all things and has power over all things. Jesus proved He was God by calming the storm exposing His power over nature. To disregard these miraculous phenomena as unsubstantiated or impossible is simply unfair to the many witnesses of these events. This historic event is proof that God does intervene in human affairs. The story should cause us to be in awe of God, just as the disciples in the boat were. God has placed the laws of science in place and can, therefore, intervene and change the laws of science if He deems necessary.

If this is true, then we must not eliminate God as a possible explanation for unknown phenomena. For example, if science indicates that someone diagnosed with some type of terminal disease, in which the patient usually only lives for three months, family and friends would be right to accept the science and prepare for the worst. Yet, it would be foolish to prohibit them to pray for recovery as if God’s hands are tied. If the patient suffering from this ailment somehow continues to live much longer and even recovers completely, how could a scientist explain it? Wouldn’t the prayers to an Almighty God be a reasonable explanation for the recovery especially since the science left us wanting?

In the end, I can’t control the weather because I don’t need to. I’d be pretty bad at it. I’d fail to realize the vital part both rain and snow play in our environment. I guess, I’ll stick to letting God be God. Now who’s going to rake up all these leaves in my yard? Where are my kids at?

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