One of These Gods Is Not Like the Others

Author Amy K. Hall Published on 01/17/2012

Atheists will frequently place all concepts of gods into the same category, saying things like, “I just believe in one less god than you do,” or, “As we learn more and more about nature from science, the need for a god will retreat to the point where there’s no longer a place for one.”

These statements can only come from a misunderstanding of the radical differences between the ancient pagan gods and the Christian God. Not all concepts of gods are equally likely (or unlikely), nor are they equally necessary. Is a rain god necessary to explain rainfall on any particular day? No. But is a creator God who, in a universe that had a beginning, brought everything (including the predictable laws of nature) into existence out of nothing necessary? Now that is a completely different question.

In Saving Leonardo, Nancy Pearcey discusses how belief in a very specific God gave rise to science:

Nature was thought to be full of gods or spirits ready to inflict disaster…unless they were placated by the correct performance of the correct rituals…. It did not seem at all orderly or predictable.

By contrast, the Bible rejects any religious status for nature. In the opening lines of Genesis, the sun, moon, and stars are not gods. Nor are they emanations of a divine essence. They are created objects. As a result, they do not have ultimate power over humans. The biblical teaching of a transcendent God liberated people from fear of spiritual forces within nature….

In the biblical worldview, theologian Thomas Derr says, “man did not face a world full of ambiguous and capricious gods who were alive in the objects of the natural world.” Instead there was “one supreme creator God whose will was steadfast.” Thus “nature exhibited regularity, dependability, and orderliness. It was intelligible and could be [scientifically] studied.”

In short, the idea of an intelligible order in nature was not derived from scientific observation. It was derived from biblical theology prior to observation. And it was what made the scientific enterprise possible in the first place.

Looking at the two kinds of gods, you can see how in the first case, each nature-god would be debunked, become obsolete, and disappear as knowledge about the laws of nature increased. However, in the second case, God is not in nature in the sense that His changing moods determine the day’s events, depending on whether or not we have correctly manipulated Him. Rather, it’s God Himself Who establishes the laws of nature, rendering them orderly and predictable, according to His Nature. This God is not manipulated by human beings. He’s not capricious, or vindictive, or chaotic. In short, He isn’t a mirror image of us and our ever-changing moods, as were the other gods of old.

Because of this, as Pearcey points out, the very idea of “laws” in nature developed for the first time in the Christian West. And as more and more is discovered about the workings of nature, this true God will not in any sense be pushed out. Rather, He will be further glorified by this complex, creative expression of His beautiful, consistent, and orderly Nature.