Does science explain everything?

John Lennox, Professor Emeritus, Oxford University



Sir Peter Medawar - who won the Nobel Prize and spent a long time in Oxford - he made the point, he said it’s perfectly obvious that science is limited since it can’t answer the typical questions of a child. “Where have I come from? What am I here for? What’s the purpose of life?” And he said it’s outside science - to literature, religion, philosophy - that we have to look for answers to those questions.

And we live in a world where there are very loud voices - strident voices - saying, “science is the only way to truth.” And I want to point out that that’s simply, is simply false.

In order to illustrate the difference between the God explanation and the science explanation, I ask people to think of boiling water. Why is the water boiling? Well, because the Bunsen burner flame is heating the kettle, agitating the molecules of water. That’s why it’s boiling. Really, is it? Actually, it’s boiling because I’d like a cup of tea.

And people laugh at that, and then I say, “Why are you laughing? You’re laughing because you see that those two explanations are perfectly valid; they don’t compete; they don’t conflict; they complement because they’re different kinds of explanations.” One is a science explanation in terms of heat, conduction and so on. And the other is a personal agent explanation, in terms of “I want a cup of tea; I desire.”

And in life, most things have multi-level explanations. That is, the scientific explanation is not enough. It’s the same for the universe. You need God as well as science. They complement; they don’t conflict.

And I often think of Isaac Newton when he discovered the law of gravity. He didn’t say, “Now I have gravity I don’t need God.” What he said was, “What a genius of a God that does it that way.” And the more we understand of things like art or engineering, the more we admire the genius of the people that produced them.

The fact that the pioneers of modern science, as we might call it (like Galileo, Kepler, Newton, coming up to Clerk Maxwell) were believers in God - I’m not sure how well known it is. And I find many school-level kids have never heard this. Because of course it means that, far from belief in God hindering the rise of science, it was the motor that drove it. People believed in an ordered universe because they believed in the law-giver behind it.

In my case, and many other people’s case, our worship for him increases the more we understand, not decreases.