Because God wanted it to

Straight Dope Science Advisory Board

Just a quick comment on this quote from you: “Hey, Sir Isaac, why did that apple fall off the tree? Answer: Because God wanted it to. So much for the discovery of gravity. The “God wanted it to” answer limits thought, to my mind” from “Followup: not all manna became inedible after one day!”

I would say that “the 'God wanted it to” answer is fine as long as one asks how. You may or may not be surprised to know that Sir Isaac Newton was a highly religious, Christian man. He believed that God created all but he did not stop at “because he wanted too.” He went on to ask how and consequently became one of the greatest contributors to science the world has ever known.

Whether not asking how is the cowardly way out, or the lazy way out, or both I will not say. I will say however, to those who may have misread your comment, that having faith in God is not cowardly. It is courageous. But let us not forget that it is part of our sojurn here on earth to increase our knowledge and continue to ask how and why.


Here’s the link for the previous comment:


So, you basically agree with Dex.

Thanks for linking to the thread, and welcome to the boards.

I think Dex may have been having a bad day when he wrote that. Still, he does have a very valid point: People can nitpick all around a column without ever touching the actual point, and that can get tedious. I don’t think he was ragging on religious thought in general.

How old is that mailbag item? I couldn’t find a date.

Hmm . . . several different things I’d like to respond to here.

I very much doubt Dex would be surprised by that. Anyone who’s done even a little reading about Newton’s life probably is aware of his religiousness. I’ve even heard it said that he thought of himself more as a theologian than a natural scientist, although I don’t know for sure if that’s true.

I certainly agree that it’s not cowardly, but what exactly makes it courageous? I don’t see how belief that God exists is intrinsically any braver than belief that God doesn’t exist. For that matter, I don’t see how either of those is any braver than the admission of uncertainty. What makes one any more “courageous” than the other?

It seems to me that Dex’s point isn’t that belief in God is cowardly, but rather that using divine intervention to explain away physical phenomena rather than probing deeper is the coward’s way out. It doesn’t sound like he’s saying there’s anything wrong with believing that physical phenomena transpire according to God’s will, only that he’s saying it’s better to investigate the causes of things instead of just choosing to assume that everything results from a direct act of divine intervention. It’s one thing to say that God created a gravitational force that pulls the apple towards the earth, but it’s something altogether different to suggest, without evidence, that God reached out and plucked the apple from the tree with his invisible hand.

Personally, I think one of the most miraculous things about the universe is that it is able to give rise to such a wide range of physical phenomena with out any need for active interference by some higher power. God doesn’t need to step in and exert his will every time he wants an apple to fall, because he’s structured the universe in such a way that it contains built-in interactions that make apples fall. And amazingly those same interactions give us the tides, and give birth to stars, and hold the galaxy together, and so forth. All the incredible structure of the universe results from a few relatively simple interactions. And like the most magnificiently constructed watch, it never needs to be rewound.

OK, so maybe I’m being overly flowery about it, and I realize I’m delving into my own personal religious views there, but my point is I don’t feel that even from a religious standpoint there’s any reason to deny that physical phenomena have physical causes, and instead assume direct divine intervention (which, again, is what I think Dex was railing against). To me a God who tampers daily in the course of events seems much less impressive than one who built the universe so well that it doesn’t require tampering.

Appologies if I’ve run too far afield of the OP.

Actually, in terms of (small-o) orthodox Christianity, at least, this is a nonsense question. As someone or other put it,

The Matthew?

If so, then he’s got a pretty good line on what the Big Guy wants.




One of my faves ever.

Of course, I’ve been a Rockets fan since about 1975 or so. Calvin Murphy, Moses Malone, Robert Reid, Hakeem, Rudy T…


Just to clarify, my position was pretty much what tim314 said – my condemnation is not of faith, but of using “God wanted it that way” as an excuse for avoiding thought, analysis, or explanation.

My comment on Newton was supposed to be that Newton didn’t let his faith get in the way of inquiry. I could have picked dozens of other examples to make the point. Doctors don’t let religious faith get in the way of trying to cure diseases, they don’t say “God wanted you to be sick.” Religious charitable organizations don’t say that God wanted those people to be poor and homeless and starving, so we needn’t offer any help. And so on.

I’m glad we all agree. :smiley: Thanks everyone for your comments. (I don’t know what Shaq has to do with it though :)).

If it’s any comfort, that one threw me for a loss for a moment, too. But he’s big and he’s a guy and I eventually figured out you weren’t THAT Matthew so…

Anyway, welcome aboard. :smiley: