There is a common misconception that the discoveries of science displace the need for God.

The argument goes that people in ancient times invoked the action of a deity as the explanation for events that we now know have a natural cause. However, the assertion that we don’t need God because we understand a phenomenon scientifically is a sine qua non; that is, the conclusion doesn’t necessarily follow from the premises. “We understand the water cycle, so we know it occurred by accident.” This is a logical mistake; the same as, “A cell is highly complex, so we know God created it.”

Understanding how a thing works doesn’t mean that we know how it came about. When Copernicus discovered …? he is said to have exclaimed, “God, I am thinking your thoughts after You!” He didn’t think that his discoveries pushed God out of the picture.

Consider water: We can make it evaporate and condense, liquify and solidify, but we cannot alter its inherent properties; the qualities that make it behave as it does. For example, we know it’s the way the molecules arrange themselves (at 122 degrees if memory serves) that makes ice less dense than water. If, hypothetically, water lost its inherent properties and, no matter what we did to it, was utterly unresponsive, could we return those properties to it or give it others, so that it behaved like mercury or fluorine or osmium?

Understanding does not mean mastery: understanding the nature and properties of water does not mean we can alter them. We understand how food gives energy to the body but does this mean we no longer need to eat, or that we no longer need farmers to grow food? Just because we understand, even at the molecular level, how water behaves, does that mean that we can cause water to do what it does? Do we no longer need God to keep the water cycle operating?

Even if we could change its inherent properties, does that mean that God didn’t create water?

A concomitant explanation of how science displaces God as a means of understanding the world is that people in times past were superstitious but today we in the postmodern era don’t hold to such shamanistic flimflam. Our understanding of the world has increased exponentially, especially by means of technological development; however, human nature hasn’t changed.

Many people today are superstitious; thinking 13 (or 4, if you’re from certain Asian cultures) is unlucky, or that you shouldn’t open an umbrella indoors, or you shouldn’t lay knives across one another, and so on. If you read the Bible, you find people then were no different to people today: when Joseph found out Mary was pregnant, would a superstitious man have intended to divorce her? “Oh yes Mary; of course I believe you didn’t have sex. Yes, I believe the Holy Spirit created the child inside you.” Joseph might have thought Mary imaginative, but he didn’t believe she was a virgin; not until he had his own encounter with Gabriel.

Like Joseph, Thomas Didymus was an empiricist. We call him “doubting Thomas” because he refused to believe the testimony of the dozen or so people he’d spent at least the last two ears with. He didn’t believe until he himself saw Jesus – and touched the wound in his side caused by the Roman spear. Would you call Thomas superstitious? And why was Paul confident that King Agrippa knew about Jesus’ life, death and resurrection? Because those events were “not done in a corner” (Acts 26:26); they were not an underground movement or conspiracy. Likewise, Paul told the Corinthians that they could interview people, who were still alive, who had seen Jesus alive again after he had been crucified. Luke, who has been called “a historian of the first rank”, told his patron Theophilus that he, Luke, had “carefully investigated everything from the beginning, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught” (Luke 1:4).

Human nature hasn’t changed: everyone has a different threshold of belief and unbelief; standards of authority, proof and evidence they require to change their mind. These standards are different for different propositions. A fact that doesn’t impact us personally won’t require as much proof to change our mind, because we have little of ourselves invested in it. But other facts, those that are close to us – physically or emotionally – usually require a far higher quality and quantity of evidence before we’ll change our mind.

But some people have already decided what they want to believe, and neither Hell nor high water will change their minds, much less evidence. The foundational issue here is not intellectual – it’s volitional: they don’t want to change their beliefs. It’s like the person who said that if Jesus were proved wrong, he’d rather stay with Jesus than with the truth. Well, he could have my seat because I wouldn’t be there – I’d be leaving to find the truth.