The world is not random, nor is God

Twice, in the last few weeks, I have met someone who said “I don’t believe in God, I believe in science.” but then added, when I produced my usual response, “Well the world is just random anyway.”  So what is my usual response, the one that twice provoked the view that the world is random? The point I make is that since science assumes that the Universe is ordered, that we can make sense of the world scientifically, there is therefore the possibility that there is some unifying creative force underlying all this, and that this is what we believers mean by God.

Now you may have noticed that the two people who said that the world was random were actually talking nonsense. We cannot say that we believe in science, that science works, as I do, and then say that everything is random. Thinking that the world is random, that we humans are at the mercy of hundreds of different forces, none of which make any sense, is simply a modern version of ancient views that the world is in the hand of many different gods, all of which have their own agendas. And that we poor humans are at the mercy of all them all, and all we can do is try to please one without offending another.

This was the world view that surrounded those who wrote the Bible. Indeed, many of the early Israelites had not really learnt the lesson of Moses that there is only one God and him alone shall you serve, and so they also worshipped the local god of nature called Baal, and a goddess called Astarte. Many of the great prophets thundered against all this, and one of the arguments they used is a primitive but nonetheless scientific view of the world. Here it is in our 1st Reading today (Isaiah 55:10-11) where the prophet says that there is one all powerful God, and that you can see that from the way that nature works. So, it is God who sends sunshine and rain every year so that seed can be sown and crops can later be harvested. Indeed, one could well argue that some of the first human scientists were the first farmers, using their observation of the natural world to begin to grow crops.

This is surely why Jesus so often uses examples from farming to illustrate what God is like, and we have his supreme example, the Parable of the Sower, as our Gospel today. (Matt 13:1-23) The point he’s making is that when God’s will is not done, it is not because some other random force is getting in the way, but because we are not being open to his grace. We humans are so easily diverted from what is good and kind, into what WE think is good for us, what WE want to do. We are sadly sometimes like shallow rocky soil where goodness and love cannot flourish, or we allow our good intentions to be choked by other seemingly more attractive things.

So those people who say that the world is random, are actually trying to blame other forces for what happens to them. We would call that superstition, something condemned by the Church : the idea that it is unlucky to go out of doors on Friday 13th or to walk under a ladder, or spill salt, or break a mirror.  It is a very human thing to do isn’t it? When things go wrong for us, it is always easier to blame something else.  The scientific view, which is also the view of the Christian, is that when something goes wrong, there must be a way to put it right; there must be some reason for it that once discovered will allow us to solve the problem. Modern medicine shows us so many examples of this, and we would praise God who made a world in which medicine works. But medicine also tells us that in order to allow medicine to work we need to look after ourselves properly, to eat and drink sensibly, to exercise, to take proper rest etc etc.

If the world is random, there is nothing we can do, except hope we hit lucky each time, as we duck and weave our way through life, usually selfishly putting ourselves first. But we Christians, along with the scientist, believe there is much we can do to make the world a better place for everyone. We are called to be good soil. Not all of us will be great saints or great scientists, but out little efforts are still precious to God. We may only produce thirtyfold rather than a hundredfold, but the point is not to be brilliant but simply to be good human beings, knowing that every good or helpful thing we do, however small, as we respond to God’s grace, makes a difference.

Yes says Jesus “Happy are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear.” May it always be so for us.