A Force Beyond Our Understanding

A discussion with professor of theoretical physics Stephen M. Barr suggests that science and faith can coexist.

By Adam Hunter, New York, New York

As appeared in

Another concept is introduced in Genesis, that the world is good and we’re in charge of taking care of it... which means understanding how it works. The world of matter in some pagan religions was evil and you wanted to escape it.

What accounts for miracles? Things that seem to defy the laws of physics?

Miracles don’t contradict that we live in a universe with laws, because if God is the lawgiver, then he has the power to suspend the laws. There are supernatural realities that don’t necessarily violate the laws of Nature.

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For example, Grace. God doesn’t have to violate the laws of Nature to give Grace to us. Nevertheless, miracles are not the fundamental reason for believing in God. Jesus didn’t perform miracles to convince his Jewish audience that God existed; they already believed in God.

The reason he performed miracles was to show God’s favor to his people. When he opens the eyes of the blind or cures people of disease, it’s God showing his love for his people. He’s not trying to convert them to belief. They already believed.

The primary way to see God is in this Universe he’s created. Which is a miracle in itself.

Some argue that unlikely things—like life—happen all the time because with enough random iterations and enough time, they’re bound to happen...

I would use this analogy. If you went to a library and you wanted to find a specific, but rather obscure recipe, and you picked a cookbook at random off the shelf, you’d be kind of surprised if it contained that particular recipe. A pretty tremendous coincidence.

Then a skeptic can come along and say maybe the book you picked has a trillion recipes in it, or all conceivable recipes. Then it wouldn’t be surprising to find that obscure recipe... but it would be even more surprising to find a book that had every conceivable recipe.

If we live in a Universe where practically every conceivable possibility is realized somewhere, that’s a very strange kind of Universe. Maybe even more surprising than the idea that we live in a Universe that’s fine tuned for life.

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Is science ever capable of proving or disproving God?

Krushev, the head of the Soviet Union back in the sixties, when they sent up the first Cosmonauts, said “Look, they didn’t see any God out there.” Well, Christians never thought you could see God floating around in space, that’s a primitive idea.

God is not a part of the world where you can go up in a spaceship and shake hands with him. God is not in the Universe. We can only see God if he chooses to reveal himself in some way. In this world we all know him “in a glass darkly,” as St. Paul said. We see God’s reflection.

How do you share your views on faith and science with your five children?

All the stuff I write on science and religion, I’ve never made them read any of it. Some of my kids have read some of the things I’ve written, but of course I think I’ve raised them in the faith. I’ve sent them to religious schools, I make sure they go to church every Sunday and practice their faith.

I believe that much more important than any arguments you give them is the way you live your life and the example you set. When my kids were young we didn’t have the money to take nice trips to beautiful places, but I wish more people would show their families the beauty of Nature.

People are more open to religious ideas if they’re exposed to the magnificence of Nature. Maybe this is a problem today. We can’t see the stars because there’s too much light in the cities. A lot of us, we’re sitting in our rooms attached to the internet. We don’t go out to see the glories.

Modern Physics and Ancient FaithOrder a copy of Stephen’s book, Modern Physics and Ancient Faith (2006, University of Notre Dame Press).