In the early 1920s, by a freak shipping accident a brand new car—a Model T Ford—in perfect working condition and with a key in the ignition and a full tank of fuel, found itself washed up on the pristine sandy shores of an untouched Pacific island.
A band of curious locals who had never seen such a wonder, after touching, pressing and carefully manipulating every accessible moving part, happened to start the engine. Shock and fear eventually gave way to smiles and chatter.
More exploring uncovered how to put the car in gear and make it move—by which time the whole village had come out to watch and cheer the spectacle. Arms and heads and joyous screams made their way out of every open window as this strange gadget drew large circles on the beach.
Later that evening, the village elders gathered to make sense of this amazing piece of machinery. It was deduced that there was a spirit-being under the bonnet of the the car, affectionately named “Mr Ford”, that made it go.
The following day the fuel tank finally emptied and the car chugged to a standstill. No amount of persistence would make the car run again, and a fight broke out as to who was responsible for causing Mr Ford so much upset that he fled the scene.
“It was deduced that there was a spirit-being under the bonnet of the the car named “Mr Ford”, that made it go.”
This, atheists scoff, is how silly and superstitious Christians look when crediting God with something we don’t yet understand about the natural world. “God of the gaps” it’s called: no need to use your brain if you can simply shrug and say “God did it” every time there’s a gap in our scientific knowledge. Then science advances, unravelling another mystery, filling another gap—and making Christians look like fools. Again.
The atheists are right. “God of the gaps” is brainless and intellectually lazy, and as Christians we need to spurn such a simplistic view of science. But the story about the Ford and our islander friends shouldn’t be so quickly discarded. It’s got something more to tell us.
See “Mr Ford” was a laughable explanation for how the car ran, considering all we know about mechanics. But was there a Mr Ford? Yes, in fact, there was. He was no spirit-being: he was the designer of this work of engineering genius, by now internationally famous for what he had achieved.
“No need to use your brain if you can shrug and say “God did it” every time there’s a gap in our knowledge.”
Let’s say one of these locals, on the arrival of Europeans and with generous support, chased down his dream to become a mechanic. After his studies he would be no fool to conclude that internal combustion is a sufficient explanation for how their lucky Ford ran. But would it also make sense for him to conclude that there was no Mr Ford who designed the engine in the first place?
To us this is an obvious mistake! If Mr Ford never existed, neither would the car that arrived on his beach that fateful day. In the same way, it’s a mistake for people to have uncovered the mechanisms by which God chose to run the world (whether cell reproduction or planetary orbits or natural selection) and thereby conclude that he does not exist. This is the error of atheism.
There is a cultural myth out there that says sceptical scientists rescued the West from superstitious Christianity. Reality check: most branches of modern science were founded by Christians, creationists in fact: Newton, Faraday, Mendel, Pasteur, Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler, Pascal—just to name a few.
“These men were pioneers, answering questions the world hadn’t even started asking.”
What’s more, historians of science are now recognising that the faith of these men was no oddity of history. It was in fact only in Western Europe, where a worldview crediting a personal, rational Creator with the universe’s design, that modern science could birth and flourish.
And these scientists were no lazy “God of the gaps” types. They were pioneers, answering questions the world hadn’t even started asking. It wasn’t the gaps in his knowledge, but actually the knowledge he uncovered, that compelled Sir Isaac Newton to write, “This most beautiful system of the sun, planets, and comets, could only proceed from the counsel and dominion of an intelligent and powerful Being.”
Mr Ford did it. Yes, God did it! But we don’t say this in the absence of evidence—when it seems science has no answers—but rather, as the scientific knowledge testifying to the majesty and brilliance of our Creator keeps rolling in.
*Ford illustration courtesy of John C. Lennox, from the book “God’s Undertaker”