Why Science Does Not Disprove God (and my commentary)

An article on Time Magazine’s website caught my attention today due to some social media buzz. I’d like to link to it here and offer my personal thoughts. timeThe article, Why Science Does Not Disprove God, is written by Dr. Amir D. Aczel, who has recently published a book by the same title. (I’ve not read the book, only the author’s article.) It’s notable that an article with this title is on Time’s website. Maybe their site views were down and they needed something to attract the ever-dependable, vociferous anti-theist internet trolls for the sake of a traffic spike (tongue-in-cheek). Overall, I was pleasantly surprised by the article, but I think some of the language was a bit ambiguous and could be misconstrued, hence my motivation for this post. So, without further ado… Aczel begins:

A number of recent books and articles will have you believe that—somehow—science has now disproved the existence of God. We know so much about how the Universe works, their authors claim, that God is simply unnecessary: we can explain all the workings of the Universe without the need for a “creator.”

Yes, this is an accurate depiction of the common pop-atheism claim. But the argument is a poor one. Dr. John Lennox’s charmingly snarky remark comes to mind here:

It is those scientists who make exaggerated claims for science who make science look ridiculous. They have unintentionally and perhaps unconsciously wandered from doing science into myth-making–incoherent myths at that.

(God’s Undertaker: Has Science Buried God?)

In reality, science has been woefully unsuccessful in answering some essential questions about the world. Contrary to the claims of some dogmatic materialism devotees, there are areas that seem to be utterly closed to empiricism. Hold this thought–I’ll elaborate in a moment.

Aczel goes on to laud the extraordinary achievements of science, including the mapping of the human genome (a project headed by a devout Christian, mind you) and the elucidation of cellular machinery. But then he makes a statement that I think needs careful clarification:

Science has won major victories against entrenched religious dogma throughout the 19th Century.

We need to understand what “entrenched religious dogma” means here. It does NOT mean essential Christian doctrines, the tenets of the faith that are required for saving knowledge of Christ. The “dogma” Aczel is referring to (I’m giving Aczel the benefit of the doubt here) includes specific interpretations of Scripture held for philosophical and other reasons. The point being, those interpretations aren’t the only options for textual coherence and Christian orthodoxy, so the “major victories” of science he refers to are not victories over Christianity. Science, the study of God’s natural revelation to us, helps our efforts to correctly understand God’s special revelation (Scripture). That’s both a win for science and a win for Christian theology.

Aczel mentions Leon Foucault’s pendulum, and how it experimentally demonstrated the rotation of the earth. But he goes further, seeming to make the claim that this was key in disproving geocentrism. That’s a very misleading statement. First of all, by the time of Foucault, heliocentrism had long been accepted by the Church and the scientific community based on empirical evidence. Perhaps Aczel means that the pendulum demonstration offered more support for the heliocentric model. Second, it must be noted that the geocentric model was indeed held by some Christian (and academic) authorities in centuries past, but at that time Scripture was being interpreted in an overly- literalistic way mainly because of theologians’ commitment to Aristotelian cosmology. My point being, evidence in strong support of heliocentrism is more of a “victory” over a non-religious natural philosophy (geocentric cosmology), one that happened to be held by religious and non-religious people of a certain time period. Aczel ends the paragraph with:

We now know that Earth is billions—not thousands—of years old, as some theologians had calculated based on counting generations back to the biblical Adam. All of these discoveries defeated literal interpretations of scripture.

I’m glad he was careful to use the phrase “literal interpretations of scripture.” The age of the earth controversy hinges on textual interpretation, not on authority or inerrancy of Scripture. This is a point many anti-theist activists refuse to acknowledge, because it ruins one of their favorite arguments against Christianity. And don’t let them tell you that Christianity has simply re-interpreted Genesis 1 and 2 to escape a fatally crushing blow of good science. There were theologians and church leaders in very early Christendom (first few centuries after Christ’s resurrection) that did not interpret the Genesis “days” literally. No matter what view you happen to take on the age of the earth, be mindful that this is not an issue that Christian orthodoxy hinges upon. The anti-theist (or even the Christian) who tells you otherwise is either dishonest or woefully under-educated on the nuances of ancient near-eastern literature and the complexity of biblical hermeneutics. Aczel continues:

But has modern science, from the beginning of the 20th Century, proved that there is no God, as some commentators are now claiming? Science is an amazing, wonderful undertaking: it teaches us about life, the world, and the Universe. But it has not revealed to us why the Universe came into existence, nor what preceded its birth in the Big Bang. Equally, biological evolution has not brought us the slightest understanding of how the first living organisms emerged from inanimate matter on this planet, and how the advanced eukaryotic cells—the highly structured building blocks of advanced life forms—ever emerged from simpler organisms. Neither does it explain one of the greatest mysteries of science: how did consciousness arise in living things? Where do symbolic thinking and self-awareness come from? What is it that allows us humans to understand the mysteries of biology, physics, mathematics, engineering, and medicine? And what enables us to create great works of art, music, architecture, and literature? Science is nowhere near to explaining these deep mysteries.

When I read this passage, I could almost hear the materialists caterwauling, “Argument from ignorance!! Argument from ignorance!! God of the gaps!! God of the gaps!!” Please hear me on this: It is very probably true that science will elucidate much more about the natural world as time goes on. The history of science has taught us to expect this, and a biblical view of the cosmos and of mankind does as well. BUT, there is a key difference between something the scientific community hasn’t yet figured out and something science CANNOT answer (for one reason or another). Materialists put an enormous amount of faith in one particular idea: There is a material explanation for EVERYTHING, even if we never discover all of them.

Think about that for a moment. Realize that this is not a scientific statement. It is a 100% philosophical statement that reveals an a priori commitment to materialism. What if some things have a non-material explanation? The handicapped version of scientific inquiry used by the materialist is impotent to discover such a thing. In other words, “There are only material explanations because those are the only ones I’m willing to consider.” Do you see the problem with this dogmatism? For example, Aczel mentions that science has no idea what preceded the Big Bang. Do you know why? Because space, matter, and TIME came into existence at that moment. “What happened before?” becomes a nonsensical question. What does that leave you with when you’re trying to determine a cause of the Big Bang? Something immaterial and timeless with power of causation (ahem). Science, by definition, can only study our universe’s matter, space, energy, and the regularities that govern them. It cannot go beyond that. The question of “before” the Big Bang is closed to science. The only thing the materialist can do is speculate, but all of the alternative theories suffer from logical problems, such as the impossibility of an infinite past series of events or moments in time.

Aczel also mentions the origin of the first life as a grave difficulty for science. This is a different situation, because life came about in the course of time after the beginning of the universe. So technically, science can investigate the how and when of life’s genesis. Intelligent design advocates are accused of the “God of the gaps” fallacy, which plugs God into any gaps in scientific knowledge. But this is categorically false. What the design advocate is claiming is that the genetic code and the characteristics of living cells bear unmistakable marks of intelligent agency. That is entirely different from saying, “Since we don’t know where life came from, God must have done it.” In other words, the biological design argument is based on empirical data not on a lack of data. The materialist, who is philosophically committed to considering only one type of explanation for natural phenomena, refuses from the start to accept indicators of design, no matter what evidence comes to light over time. Talk about open-minded inquiry.

I particularly love that Aczel asks, “Where do symbolic thinking and self-awareness come from? What is it that allows us humans to understand the mysteries of biology, physics, mathematics, engineering, and medicine? And what enables us to create great works of art, music, architecture, and literature?” The higher cognition and rationality that is required for symbolic and abstract thought, for the conception of elaborate and artistic creations, is unique to human beings. Furthermore, these are capabilities that wouldn’t have emerged based on a survival or reproductive advantage out in the prehistoric jungle. It’s a bit silly to think that some ancient hominid who first developed the mental construct of numbers, for example, was somehow more physically fit, or more attractive to a mate who had no such concept. Rationality, including symbolic/abstract thought, and acute moral awareness delineate us in kind, not degree, from the rest of the animal kingdom. This is one facet of what philosophers of religion mean when they refer to the imago Dei, the image of God. I love Aczel’s next argument (emphasis, mine):

But much more important than these conundrums is the persistent question of the fine-tuning of the parameters of the Universe: Why is our Universe so precisely tailor-made for the emergence of life? This question has never been answered satisfactorily, and I believe that it will never find a scientific solution. For the deeper we delve into the mysteries of physics and cosmology, the more the Universe appears to be intricate and incredibly complex. To explain the quantum-mechanical behavior of even one tiny particle requires pages and pages of extremely advanced mathematics. Why are even the tiniest particles of matter so unbelievably complicated? It appears that there is a vast, hidden “wisdom,” or structure, or a knotty blueprint for even the most simple-looking element of nature.

Indeed, there should come a point in our scientific investigation when we admit that material explanations for some phenomena are appearing less and less likely, and we should consider other possibilities. This is not to say that we close the door on material explanation!! We are simply broadening the scope of our inquiry. Why on earth would any competent scientist object to this? The only reason, as far as I can see, is that it rubs their metaphysical fur the wrong way. After a few good words on the fine-tuning problem, Aczel declares:

…the purely hypothetical multiverse does not solve the problem of God. The incredible fine-tuning of the Universe presents the most powerful argument for the existence of an immanent creative entity we may well call God. Lacking convincing scientific evidence to the contrary, such a power may be necessary to force all the parameters we need for our existence—cosmological, physical, chemical, biological, and cognitive—to be what they are.

I agree. Even the late Christopher Hitchens admitted this troubling problem for materialism. (<—that video is a MUST-WATCH). The odds are not in their favor. The article ends with:

Science and religion are two sides of the same deep human impulse to understand the world, to know our place in it, and to marvel at the wonder of life and the infinite cosmos we are surrounded by. Let’s keep them that way, and not let one of them attempt to usurp the role of the other.

This comes very close to what I believe is the correct philosophy of science and faith integration: Science, when correct, will never conflict with theology, done correctly; they actually exist in synergy, complementing and even supporting one another. In the oft-quoted words of the brilliant scientist Johannes Kepler, the practice of science is merely “thinking God’s thoughts after Him.”