maandag 24 maart 2014

"With mind and heart". Gastbijdrage van Cees Dekker

Tonight we are debating the question whether or not God exists. With the added twist: Can science prove that? Twisted indeed! Of course the answer to that last question is simply no: science cannot prove God. And science cannot disprove God. There is simply no way that I can go into my lab and do the definitive ‘God experiment’!

Yet, we can search and find God. I was reminded by what Jesus Christ called the greatest commandment: ‘To love God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind.’ Interestingly, Jesus emphasizes loving God with both your heart and your mind. Likewise, I think we should search for God with both our heart and with our mind.

‘Mind’ takes center stage tonight. Indeed, we can use our minds to weigh evidence for the existence of God.(*) While ‘absolute proof’ is impossible, we can certainly examine many scientific facts that are pointers to the existence of God. In such pointers, one focuses not so much on the specific scientific results themselves, but one reflects on their wider implications.

Think, for example, of the laws of nature, where do they come from? A Lawgiver is a natural suggestion for the intrinsic order discovered in the natural world. Or take cognitive psychology where research has shown that children have a natural tendency to believe in God. Or take the big bang, the absolute beginning of energy, matter, space and time. What caused that big bang? Clearly this first cause must have been something hugely powerful beyond matter and outside space and time – a description that comes very close to what most people would call ‘God’.

Or take the ‘finetuning’ of the universe(**): I have been impressed by the fact that our cosmos has been found to have exactly those properties that allow for life. It could have been otherwise but the physical constants of nature (like the strength of gravity) and the beginning state of the universe (like its density) need to have extremely precise values to enable life. These values deduce, for example, the expansion speed of the universe. If the expansion would proceed a tiny bit too rapidly, galaxies and stars could not form; if a tiny bit too slow, the universe would collapse before life could evolve. And that ‘tiny bit’ comes ridiculously precise – an estimate for cosmological constant indicates a precision of 1 in 1053! That’s like throwing darts where the dartboard is the size of the universe and you hit the bullseye that is the size of your fingertip! So, what does this all mean? ‘Random chance’ simply is not a rational explanation anymore. In my opinion, this extreme finetuning points towards a provident God who wanted to create a universe with humans.

One could go on and on and discuss many such pointers to the existence of God. But, these ‘questions for the mind’ are not the full story. The God question ultimately is a deep existential question, a question of the heart. Pascal famously said ‘The heart has its reasons which the mind knows nothing of.’ Indeed! All of us know the existential questions of the heart: Who am I? What is the meaning of my life? Is there a God?

Let me tell you my personal story. Since my teenage years, I have experienced a sense of meaning in life. Looking at the staggeringly complex world around me, I simply cannot convince myself that all this chain of being is at bottom utterly senseless. I have pondered the option of becoming an atheist, but I cannot persuade myself. I would have to declare so many things as illusionary: my inner sense of purpose, my experiences of God, dignity of man, altruistic goodwill towards others, even my own free will,... According to atheism, these are all illusions that my brain tricks me with, ultimately all merely spontaneous eruptions of a random chain of atomic collisions. I find this bleak picture of atheism entirely unconvincing.

By contrast, I find faith in God so much more credible. The Christian worldview provides a coherent and robust understanding of reality where all those so-called illusions naturally fall into place: purpose, man’s dignity, free will, and so on – it suddenly all makes sense.

The existential questions of the heart thus point me to God – in a way that far surpasses the pointers of the mind. So, lets search for God. With all of our mind, but surely also with all of our heart.

(*) An excellent book (in Dutch) on this theme is ‘God bewijzen’ by Stefan Paas & Rik Peels.
(**) See e.g.

Cees Dekker, ‘column’ spoken at the Veritas Forum, Delft, March 19, 2014

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