The great astronomer, Johannes Kepler held an interesting perspective in regards to his own exploration of the mechanics of the universe. As discussed in a previous blog, there are certain beliefs he and other scientists held which grounded their research. Among them is the belief that God ordained and sustains a universe which is both orderly and knowable. Kepler is often quoted as saying, “I was merely thinking God’s thoughts after Him. Since we astronomers are priests of the highest God in regard to the book of nature, it benefits us to be thoughtful, not of the glory of our minds, but rather, above all else, of the glory of God” We are left with the task of trying to understand the universe and the God who is there by what he has made – his character and purposes should follow from what we see in nature – science and religion both play a role in this act of discovery. Modern science, however, has steered away from this objective.
During the enlightenment, a shift began to occur which moved the purview of the purposes of the universe from the wisdom of the divine to the mind of man. In our human arrogance, we thought we knew better than God. As Tim Keller puts it, “In ancient times it was understood that there was a transcendent moral order outside the self, built in to the fabric of the universe…Modernity reversed this…Instead of trying to shape our desires to fit reality, we now seek to control and shape reality to fit our desires.” Rather than thinking man is made in the image of God, we have turned the table, and are designing a god which is made in the image of man (e.g. scientism).
This is exemplified, for instance, in the presumption which Darwin leaned on heavily in his book The Origin of Species. Frequently in the text, he describes an interesting feature of nature and then in some manner or another declares that God would not have done it that way. This became his fundamental evidence for his theory of evolution – his was a religious argument, not a scientific argument. His incredulity regarding God caused him to take on the very god-like quality of omniscience.
Another example of this shift in thinking is evident in the common complaint against God for suffering in the world. A typical assertion goes something like this: “If God were a loving God, he would not have allowed pain and suffering in the world. Since there is pain and suffering, God is not loving or does not exist at all.” The first premise of this assertion is derived from some human utopian ideal, and lacks any justification. It certainly does not align with anything held by the major world religions. At best, this claim only refutes the existence of the utopian god it presupposes.
The views found in the examples given above were derived from a dissatisfaction with the way the world seems to be – fair enough. I think you would be hard pressed to find many who revel in death, disease, despair and injustice. But how do these views strive to explain suffering? Some of our troubles are of our own making, but not always. These views leave us to suppose that suffering really has no reason or purpose – it is just a brute fact of the universe.
If we work from Kepler’s perspective, however, we would see suffering in a different light. The God revered by Kepler, and revealed in Judeo-Christian scriptures, did not try to mislead us about the way he made the world. For instance, the prophet Isaiah quotes God who tells him, “I form light and create darkness; I make well-being and create calamity; I am the Lord, who does all these things.” (Isaiah 45:7) The prophet Jeremiah says, “Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that both calamities and good things come?” (Lamentations 3:38)
Like Kepler, I think we would do well to take the universe as it is and operate under the assumption that God made it this way and has some useful purpose for all we experience – whether it is convenient to us or not. As finite beings, we are only able to get a glimpse of the mind of God as we peer into His creation. We may be able to glean how some things operate or were formed, but we will not fully understand the purposes behind everything that exists. This is where we need to position ourselves in humility like Job, to whom God said, “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements—surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone, when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy?” (Job 38:4-7)
I would never presume to suggest the specific reason any one person is experiencing trouble or suffering in their life – that is well above my pay grade. How much of that is self-inflicted or was intentionally purposed by God, I cannot say. But in general terms, we ought to realize that if we were to live in a world devoid of calamity (either natural or human caused) we would not be able to develop a sense of justice or compassion or any of the other virtues. Like it or not, our character is at stake. Without God in the picture, however, the development of our character has no ultimate purpose – it is a moot point. As Kepler indicated, “it benefits us to be thoughtful, not of the glory of our minds, but rather, above all else, of the glory of God.”
As quoted in the New World Encyclopedia https://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Johannes_Kepler; accessed 7/10/20.
 Timothy Keller, The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism (New York, NY: Riverhead Books, 2008), 73.
 Karlo Broussard provides a detailed explanation why brute facts are unreasonable at https://strangenotions.com/5-reasons-why-the-universe-cant-be-merely-a-brute-fact/.
3 thoughts on “Thinking God’s Thoughts After Him”
Bravo, my friend!! Well said. I agree that the giants in astronomy were heavensgazers, those who investigate out of their ‘faith first‘ rationale to understand God through the voice of what He created (Psalm 148).
However, the writer has misquoted Darwin as saying, “God would not have done it that way” – when in fact Darwin has never said these words in his writings.
The original author of those words is Cornelius Hunter in his book, Darwin’s God and the Problem of Evil.
You are correct. I have removed the quotation marks. This was the gist of his arguments, however – Darwin was much more verbose than that. For example: “He who admits the doctrine of the creation of each separate species, will have to admit, that a sufficient number of the best adapted plants and animals have not been created on oceanic islands; for man has unintentionally stocked them from various sources far more fully and perfectly than has nature.”