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God Is Not a Scientific Hypothesis

On Christmas Day 2014, the Wall Street Journal, published an essay by the award-winning Evangelical author, Eric Metaxas: “Science Increasingly Makes the Case for God.” He begins by claiming that in the recent past people accepted the narrative that “as science progresses, there is less need for a ‘God’ to explain the universe.” But now, Metaxas argues, that narrative is becoming obsolete: current findings in science show us that the arising of life in the universe is so improbable that it becomes increasingly clear that some master intelligence is probably behind it.

But is this the right way to think about God as Creator? Is the rational basis for believing in His existence really dependent on the deliverances of modern science? Should one calibrate the depth of one’s faith on the basis of what researchers tell us about the plausibility of the “God hypothesis” in recent issues of the leading peer-reviewed science journals? The answer to all three question is no, since God is not a scientific hypothesis. For this reason, it is equally true that advances in our scientific knowledge cannot in principle count against the existence of God.

This is because God – as understood by the Catholic Church and by most other theistic traditions – is not a being in the universe, a superior agent whose existence we postulate in order to explain some natural phenomenon, but rather, Being Itself, that which all contingent reality depends for its existence.

In order to appreciate how this understanding differs from Metaxas’ Watchmaker God, suppose in a few years scientists tell us, after further research, new discoveries, and confirmed theories, that the arising of life in the universe is not that improbable after all. What then happens to Metaxas’ God? He is now superfluous, and Metaxas would have to concede that theists are once again irrational, as they apparently were when the (temporarily obsolete) God hypothesis was down for the count the last time science threw its best punch.

Given the arguments Metaxas summarizes in his essay, it is tempting for the theist to confidently tout such evidence. When faced with a cadre of globally accessible, and endlessly annoying, village atheists who posit the findings of science as defeaters to belief in God, there is nothing quite like the Schadenfreude of pointing out to the self-appointed guardians of reason that they have been hoisted upon their own petard. But you should not acquiesce to this temptation. For in doing so, you concede to the atheist his mistaken assumption that the rationality of belief in God depends on the absence of a scientific account of whatever phenomenon is in question.

"God the Father" by Cima da Conegliano, c. 1515
“God the Father” by Cima da Conegliano, c. 1515

The key to responding to such misinformed unbelief is to challenge this assumption, which is relatively easy to do. First, philosophy, and not any empirical science, is the proper discipline from which to start one’s inquiry into natural theology. In fact, the unbeliever, ironically, assumes this very point by starting with science. How is that possible? His belief that science is the best or only way by which one may properly assess the rationality of belief in God is itself not a deliverance of science, but a philosophical belief about science and its relationship to the limits of our knowledge. So, whether he realizes it or not, the scientific critic of God begins with philosophy, which means that it, and not science, is where the reasonable person should begin.

Second, the philosophical case for God – as St. Thomas Aquinas and his followers have argued –starts from the contingency of the universe, which is a metaphysical claim and not a scientific one. Whatever the universe and its parts are made of – whether they consist of atoms, Swiss cheese, strings, or some weird yet undiscovered fundamental particles – and whether or not the universe had a beginning in time, play no role in this analysis.

Looking for improbable occurrences in nature that cannot be accounted for by either chance or scientific laws, and then from those concluding that one has “made a case for God,” as Metaxas argues, confuses a question of natural science with a question of natural theology. God, in the classical tradition, is not in competition with the contingent universe He creates. He is its First Cause that is itself not contingent. But He is not first in the order of time, but first in the order of being. This means that the contingent universe remains in existence because it depends on Self-subsistent Being, whether or not the universe has always existed.

For example, the impossibility of a perpetual motion machine – even if it is one that had always existed – does not stand or fall on the material nature of its parts, i.e., whether it is made of hamburger, wood, or cookie dough, or some combination. Rather, it depends on the nature of the machine. So, even if the sciences could give us a seamless and gapless account of the universe’s natural phenomena, it would have no bearing on the rationality of belief in God.

Although Metaxas’ heart is in the right place, the “success” of his approach requires that he forfeit large swaths of philosophical real estate to the landlords of unbelief. It is not a price that serious theists should ever be willing to pay.

Francis J. Beckwith

Francis J. Beckwith

Francis J. Beckwith is Professor of Philosophy & Church-State Studies, Baylor University, and 2016-17 Visiting Professor of Conservative Thought and Policy at the University of Colorado, Boulder. Among his many books is Taking Rites Seriously: Law, Politics, and the Reasonableness of Faith (Cambridge University Press, 2015).

  • Ib

    Serendipitously, the Wall Street Journal published an opinion piece by Ira Rothstein on December 8, 2014, which has the same point as Dr. Beckwith’s post. Dr. Rothstein, a pro­fes­sor of physics at Carnegie Mel­lon Uni­ver­sity, writes

    “I find it re­mark­able and in­spir­ing that some of the dis­ci­pline’s [i.e., quantum physics] es­o­teric ideas have per­co­lated into pub­lic con­scious­ness, but we should be wary of ap­ply­ing them to mat­ters that are bet­ter left to philoso­phers and the­ologians.”

    As for fine-tuning arguments, I recall a conversation I had with Dr. Stephen Barr in 2011. I asked him if he thought multiverse cosmology was likely to be true. He told me that he thought multiverse cosmology more plausible because of its explanatory power, especially in the face of inflation, dark energy, accelerating rate of galaxy dispersal, etc. However, the emergence of multiverse cosmology has made fine-tuning alignments much more likely: the fine-tuning probabilities are around 1 in 10^17 (according to Metaxas himself), while in multiverse cosmologies, the lower bound of possible universes becomes something like 10^500. Fine-tuning and anthropic alignments become much easier to explain in a multiverse cosmology.

    Now, with additional exploration of nature, multiverse cosmology may turn out to be implausible. Such is the nature of scientific hypothesis. But that’s just something of the point that Drs. Rothstein and Beckwith wish to make about a “God Hypothesis”. A “God Hypothesis” would be about something in nature, bound by space+time, and hence, not about the God of Christian orthodoxy. Perhaps Mormonism or Whiteheadianism might embrace such a thing, but Christianity, never!

    • geoffrobinson

      What did he mean by explanatory power? Because a super-intelligence has a lot of explanatory power in this matter frankly.

      • Ib

        What do scientists mean when they say one hypothesis has more explanatory power than another? Unfortunately, no short answer can be provided that doesn’t seriously over-simplify and may mislead those not familiar with contemporary experimental designs.

        If you’re willing to read a book, see

        William Wallace O.P., “The Modeling of Nature.” Catholic University of America Press, 2012. (listed on the CUA Press website)

        It is one of the best guides to this area from a Thomist point of view. Another recent book I recommend is

        Benedict Ashley O.P. and John Deely, “How Science Enriches Theology.” St. Augustine’s Press, 2012. (listed on the St. Augustine’s Press website).

        Hope that helps!

  • Craig Payne

    For a student of Aquinas, one of the most illuminating discoveries occurs when one realizes that (no matter what multitudes of textbooks mistakenly claim) his Fifth Way of arguing for God’s existence is not an argument from the design of the universe, but rather from its teleology–its directedness, its inherent purposes, in everything. For nature to be filled with purpose requires God. This approach is much easier and ultimately more satisfying to the intellect than trying to argue from the nature of quantum particles.

  • Spoken like a true Thomist. Although one runs into the possibility of committing a god-of-the-gaps fallacy, perhaps there’s some merits to examining what science says about belief in God. Yes, it will not definitively prove God, but it may at least demonstrate that science is ultimately inadequate for the general task of proving God in general. We don’t have to go as far as citing intelligent design as a solid proof for God, but we might say an intelligible universe disproves the notion of a random godless universe. In other words, science could disprove science as a plausible argument against God.

  • gfazzari

    Although the basis of this article is important and true, I do not think that the goal of the “intelligent design” discussion is at odds with it.

    The atheistic scientists have been making metaphysical claims for many years. We cannot deny that these metaphysical claims have had a very real effect on the faith of many.

    What I feel the ID discussions do is state very simply – look at the evidence and ask the obvious question. Is it more reasonable to believe this all happened through happenstance, or to be believe that there is obviously a designer out there?

    The ID discussion helps us recognize that science demonstrates that faith is extraordinarily reasonable. And honestly, atheism if not reasonable.

  • geoffrobinson

    Romans 1 tells us that God’s eternal power can be seen from the things that are made.

    The multiverse seems to be an attempt to suppress the truth in unrighteousness.

    • RainingAgain

      As Jaki said, we can know nothing about a multiverse, by its very nature, and if we do learn something of it, it is no longer a multiverse but part of an extended universe.

    • Romans 1 also tells us that we suppress this truth and exchange it for a lie.

      • geoffrobinson

        I surmise what we really need to read is the gospel of John, specifically the fear of man vs the fear of God theme in the book. Oh no, the academics will mock us if we don’t stay in our theistic ghetto! Sorry. Not playing that game. The evidence lends credibility to theistic arguments. I’m not going to pretend it doesn’t just so I get taken seriously or because of Aquinas.

  • Howard Kainz

    Aristotle in his Physics, comes the conclusion of the existence of God (the prime mover), by his analysis of motion (One of the approaches of Aquinas in the “5 ways”). But his physics leads to his Metaphysics, in which he carries out a remarkable analysis (5 centuries before Christ) of what must be the characteristics of God. This is the sort of path which many today may follow — especially through the sciences of cosmology and molecular biology. As the Epistle to the Hebrews (11:6) puts it, ” he that comes to God, must believe that he exists, and is a rewarder to them that seek him.” Those who make the first step, believing in the existence of God, may find new access to the second step and reception of the reward of faith.

    • I think it better to say that the first step of faith must be Faith in Christ for then our eyes are opened to acknowledge the creation trumpets creator.

  • Jonathan Deundian

    The only question I have is if the physical evidence showed the universe was past eternal, would this undermine the Judea-Christian account of creation? And if so, what’s an appropriate Catholic response given that the Church has historically acquiesced to scientific thought when the thought is believed to count as knowledge?

  • Robert Royal

    Jonathan, that’s a question often asked about classical theism. By “past eternal” I’m guessing you mean that it had no temporal beginning, but always existed. Curiously, Aquinas argued that reason could not resolve whether time had a beginning, but he accepted that it did via Genesis. But he and others also believed, as Professor Beckwith mentions, that “first” for God, means fist in Being not in temporal order, so an eternal creation would not necessarily contradict Genesis since he could have created from all eternity. Since the world, as contingent (again, in classical theism) cannot be self-subsisting or self-creating it would depend on absolute being (God) even for its eternal creation. Ot at least that’s how the best readings, in my view, answer the question.

    • Jonathan Deundian

      Thank you. I was under the impression that Catholic/Orthodox Christianity precluded a belief in a past eternal universe. I mean, various scholars (Catholic and Protestant) have criticized Mormons for this very reason, perhaps unfairly, would you agree?

  • Thanks, Dr. Beckwith. I am not s huge advocate of the intelligent design argument. Your article is a good counterbalance to the recent article from Msgr. Pope, “A Recent Article Ponders the Rarity of Earth And How Astronomical Are the Odds Against Complex Life in the Universe!” (I have not read the Metaxas article yet.)

    Pope makes a “what if” claim about finding a computer lab on Mars, that it would be plausible to claim that someone intelligent made the lab. It is not that strong.

    And it reminds me of something Neil deGrasse Tyson said a while back, contra intelligent design: that intelligent design does not answer the anatomical mystery of the human groin — “an entertainment complex built around a sewage system?” Not that strong, either, because it simply means that HE, Neil deGrasse Tyson, cannot comprehend the design.

    Dr. Stanley Jaki has the best approach, which you followed. Good.

    • OJS

      It figures that Mr. Tyson thinks of the human sexual organs as an “entertainment complex”, again displaying the morally bankrupt and intellectually frivolous nature of the current batch of materialists. And any way, doesn’t he know that there is only one scientific (biological) use for those organs? And it doesn’t have a damn thing to do with “entertainment”
      OJS

      • mikehorn

        NdGT was quoting someone else on the entertainment center bit, but the criticism is valid biologically, especially for women. Having the waist and sexual systems so close makes infections way too common, especially urinary tract infections, but others as well. It makes sense in light of evolution, where the openings in the outer layer coincide. An intelligent designer should have come up with something better or you better put “intelligent” in sarcasm quotes. Evolution is blind, works only with what it has, and continues today, so an imperfect body with basic plumbing problems should be expected.

        Your digs on sexual pleasure are also not scientific. Sex is pleasurable for multiple reasons that have only passing relation to reproduction. Pair bonding. Desire to have more sex, increasing the chance of pregnancy. There is research showing that rate of female orgasm seems to correlate with pregnancy rate. Emotional solace. Sex, even within marriage only, better be mostly about pleasure or the kids won’t be showing up at all. A social species uses sex for far more than reproduction. Dogs/wolves include it in dominance contests (man does too, if you read about how prisoners and defeated leaders were treated historically, especially long ago, and continues in how rape works). Bonobos use it to grease social interaction. Dolphins seem to do it for fun, though recent studies might indicate dominance there, too, like in wolves.

        • Mike D’Virgilio

          “An intelligent designer should have come up with something better.”

          Really? You obviously assert this on the basis of the infinite knowledge that you have, right? I’m sure you know every contingency of what could have possibly been created and the cost/benefit of each, right? Because you obviously know what an all powerful creator would do in every circumstance, right? You are one very impressive person! Maybe you are God himself. Are you? You know so much with so much certainty, I just had to ask.

          • mikehorn

            Careful to note my implied caveat: this only applies if the ID person assumes everything was created in its present form like in Genesis, throwing out the evidence for Evolution. What we see in living creatures today and the remains of those long dead shows how things developed and changed over time. The sexual organs are just one example. What we see in humans and animals today makes sense in light of Evolution, not a literal Genesis. Catholics generally accept Evolution, and the Vatican definitely does, though they add a clause about God guiding it along the way. But Evolution implies that change is not done, so it’s possible that some compromises and anachronisms will weed themselves out.

            Bad design is bad design. Eyeballs are jacked up, but show the evidence of Evolution in how we got what we have. The neck of a giraffe has some serious flaws, pointing to much shorter necks in their ancestors. Why is an appendix even there? Wisdom teeth in mouths too small for them? Pinky fingers? Separate toes? Some milk tolerance, some not? All this points away from a literal Designer who made us as we are today, and towards Evolution cobbling things together over time. Milk tolerance is an interesting one, coinciding with the domestication of what was the wild Aurochs and now the ubiquitous milk cow. Milk tolerance happened at least twice in two different places at about the same time using two different genetic mutations to achieve the same result, adults able to digest milk. If curious, the two places were Northern Europe and Eastern Africa, both within the last 5-10K years, almost within recorded history.

            About me knowing so much, I’ve been reading lots for many years and managed to retain a good deal of it. I was born with a decent brain and a live of reading, and have used it since rather than letting it wither. Try it yourself?

          • Mike D’Virgilio

            mikehorn, your certainty is certainly impressive. Your conclusions and reasoning very much less so.

          • mikehorn

            Forgot to mention: I read so much and remember a good portion of it because I was born with a big brain and the genetics to make it much better and bigger after birth. This points towards cobbled evolution, and is a serious flaw in the literal Design idea. Human babies are born too soon and too helpless due to their large brain, but is balanced by the survival advantage such a large brain gives us. Large heads make childbirth in humans the most dangerous of any Ape, and most animals more distantly related, causing very large maternal and infant mortality rates before modern medicine. But our big brains seem to be our greatest survival tool, so it seems to be worth it since we are here. But if a God designed us as is, he sure does accept a lot of maternal and infant death.

            A note from my reading, it’s possible our second greatest survival skill is long distance running. Most animals are sprinters, and among Apes we are fast but not compared to anything else. But we can keep an efficient, decent pace for miles on end, wearing out prey who simply can’t do this. This points to adaptation of a tree species who later evolved for distance running.

  • Cliff Staples

    Msgr. Robert Sokolowski–throughout his work–but especially in The God of Faith and Reason is very helpful on this matter. In working through the issues in a recent exchange with a friendly atheist it also helped me see more clearly how the Catholic understanding of God allows us to appreciate how the only way God could be in the world is the way in fact he did come into the world, as the God-man Jesus Christ. This is the only evidence for the Christian God unbelievers in the Christian God will get, and which is of course why it is so important to refuse to see such evidence as evidence for those who claim to be interested in evidence. If it is acknowledged that Jesus Christ might be who who He said He was, well this is evidence a reasonable person might find hard to ignore.

  • Stanley Anderson

    There is a scene in the movie “Stand by Me” where two of the boys are having a discussion. Here it is:
    ——-
    Vern: Do you think Mighty Mouse could beat up Superman?

    Teddy: What are you, cracked?

    Vern: Why not? I saw the other day. He was carrying five elephants in one hand!

    Teddy: Boy, you don’t know nothing! Mighty Mouse is a cartoon. Superman’s a real guy. There’s no way a cartoon could beat up a real guy.

    Vern: Yeah, maybe you’re right. It’d be a good fight, though.
    ——

    We might liken Teddy to the materialist scientist who thinks Christianity is like Vern’s view of Mighty Mouse — a cartoon. And it is tempting, as an intellectual Catholic, to equally laugh at scientist Teddy’s view of “science” as Superman being a real guy, and pass off the entire conversation as perfectly silly. Of course it is silly, but there is a kind of “meta-observation” about the conversation that can be useful.

    This is the fact that the ideas of Superman and Mighty Mouse come from — or “point to” — actual realities that the ideas are based on. They would not even be comprehensible if “men” and “mice” or “powers” or even “fighting” had no meaning. If Vern had said “Do you think DPWILG could 7%UQ*L up >K)#EV?”, we might justifiably pass it off as total gibberish. But we can laugh at the conversation precisely because we DO know what the ideas are based on and that they “point” to realities that exist however mistaken the conversation about the ideas might be.

    For this is (as I’ve mentioned in other posts) what virtually all branches of science and mathematics do — i.e., they “point to” something “out there” that they themselves can’t even “see”, but nevertheless unequivocally demand the existence of. And it is this “pointing” that materialist/reductionist scientists seem to refuse to acknowledge. Not that the pointing can prove that God or any particular religious or theological view of God is correct — the pointing only says that the scientific or mathematical system itself cannot be complete (quantum physics and Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorems being two primary examples, though I could cite many others).

    And it is the habit of heeding this “pointing” as a way of thinking and living in the world that more easily leaves one “open” to God’s calling. The scientists’ self-blinding that prevents them from acknowledging the pointing is the greatest danger to them, not the science itself. In fact, if they embraced the entirety of what the science is telling them, they would almost certainly encounter God (by whichever of the myriad ways that he chooses to reveal himself), at least in my view.

    So although I might agree with Francis Beckwith’s assessment (I haven’t seen the article he refers to, so I don’t know all of what Metaxas says), I also want to say that there is some value in acquiring the “habit” of “stepping back” to see what the science is saying (or not saying) in its totality. It is essentially the advice that Jesus gave to the crowds he fed, “Very truly I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw the signs I performed but because you ate the loaves and had your fill.”

  • Steve Ruble

    “This means that the contingent universe remains in existence because it depends on Self-subsistent Being, whether or not the universe has always existed.”

    I have a hard time understanding why Thomists think the assertion that the universe depends on something else to maintain its existence should be given any credence whatsoever. It is at least as plausible that the universe maintains its own existence, and certainly more parsimonious. Why do you imagine that the universe would pop out of existence if there were no Being of Capitalized Adjectives to make it stick around?

  • brians

    Paraphrasing GKC, the cosmos is about the smallest hole in which a fellow can bury his head.

  • patsw

    I think you and Eric agree on more that you suggest here. Speaking for myself, the purpose of understanding cosmology as Eric describes it is not to create a dependency upon the improbabilty of “us” for belief in God but to remove a stumbling block that it’s “settled science” that the universe can now be explained without a cause outside of itself. It’s about opening the minds of others rather than weaving a theistic security blanket for ourselves.

  • accelerator

    Is Beckwith for real? He is asking if Metexas is on target, even if his heart is in the right place? I think he might be better off asking that of his Pope Francis… But that would be politically incorrect in his Catholic commentators’ universe, right? Neocath credibility continues to plummet. I’d rather read Douthat in the Times. He at least does not avoid the elephant in Rome.

  • Luke Applet

    I don’t see why one can’t enjoy one’s schadenfreude without taking God’s existence to be a scientific question. In effect one says: even if you are right about how the question is to be settled, the answer does not appear to be what you claimed.
    A variety of considerations have been forward both in support of God’s existence and against it. It is dogmatic to insist that only one discipline has a right to weigh in. Jesus shows Thomas his wounds and performs a number of miracles. God appears to Moses and other individuals at a number of points. These empirical facts, if they are facts, are not irrelevant to the question. Nor are the philosophical arguments irrelevant.
    It does seem of practical importance, given the polemic against creationism, to remind people that there can be empirical evidence that something was intelligently designed as opposed to having arisen from the interplay of chance forces.

  • dr.gspangloss

    If there exist but one Universe , then those who argue that belief in a
    supreme Intelligence (Deist God) who created the laws of nature such
    that from a singularity, a point of low entropy , a densely packed high
    energy state ,resulted an evolving(increasing entropy ) , expanding
    Universe , which eventually gave rise to consciousness , and consequently
    beings capable of understanding their own creation- hold a plausible
    position , which , I believe , adds to mankind’s continuous quest to
    understand “where we came from” and perhaps “why we are here”. However,
    perhaps we exist in a Multiverse , and being one of an infinite number
    of Universe’s , just got lucky to live in the “Goldilocks ” of
    Universes. But ,from whence did these Universes arise ?…. The quantum
    foam . But why does the foam exist ? The answer depends on one’s first
    Axiom .Take your pick. I believe( based in part on an emotional connection ) that Uncertainty warrants deference for – not doubt of – the One who allows all the wonders about.

  • Striker

    A tantalizing piece. However, it is my fate to argue the negative:

    No man, except perhaps a madman, would believe in God unless there were some quantum of evidence in favor of His existence. And, as man is bounded by his physical body and by this physical cosmos, in this respect “evidence” plainly refers to things from inside this physical cosmos that can be apprehended, sensed, or experienced through man’s physical body. Even if, as the author suggests, God is not an agent in this cosmos, He has from time to time been a cause in this cosmos, or so Scripture claims.

    This is where natural science has steadily eroded the basis of faith: by removing, one by one, the supernatural explanation for physical phenomena. In other words, the quantum of evidence in favor of God’s existence has grown smaller and smaller. So, even if the author is correct that natural science cannot touch upon metaphysical questions, what it has done is cut us off, so to speak, from those things in this cosmos formerly thought to be traces of, or points of contact with, God. Consequently, faith has become an exceedingly low-probability proposition such that in practical terms it is nearly disproved or rendered irrelevant.

    Perhaps with Mr. Beckwith believers can take comfort in the safe harbor provided by the immunity of metaphysical questions to scientific investigation. Yet, I would remind them that philosophers launched the scientific project by positing a cosmos different from what Scripture and dogma portrayed. The advances of the scientific project suggest that these philosophers had a truer opinion on the nature of the cosmos. And I have yet to mention the ravages of Nietzsche and Heidegger upon the question of Being. . . .

  • mikehorn

    It doesn’t help that the article was wrong on the math and science.

    Math: probability for success can only be computed by putting the observed instances against the successful instances. Right now we have one observed universe, and one observed planet in that universe. The rest is either unobserved or (with planets) only at the start of exploration, so that we don’t have enough info to judge success or not. The probability equation works out to 100% or 1/1, or 1, depending on your preferred version of the answer (they are equivalent). This will only change once we have enough data to include any other points in the equation. We still don’t know enough about spots in our own solar system to include them, much less any of the extrasolar planets discovered.

    Science, especially SETI: any number of flawed assumptions in the article. Radio might not be a great interstellar communications medium, but we look there because it’s all we know. Laser might be an option, but line of sight is a problem and it still suffers the speed limit issue. Deep time is a problem: we’ve been searching decades compared to 14B years, maybe 12 of which might have produced life? The two are 9 orders of magnitude apart. Once we search for at least 1B years, we might get a rational comparison.

    Essentially it boils down to a “God of the gaps” argument, which is both bad science and bad theology.

  • Matthew Kilburn

    “the “success” of his approach requires that he forfeit large swaths of philosophical real estate to the landlords of unbelief. It is not a price that serious theists should ever be willing to pay”

    Except that if Metaxas’ argument is accurate, the “unbelief” that you fear ceding ground to by accepting it has already been exposed as a fraud.

  • “God is not a scientific hypothesis.” Right; He’s not. But neither is He a philosophical abstraction: “Being Itself.”

  • EqualTime

    I was raised Catholic and have become a non-believer in my 50’s, following the peaceful passing of my parents. I’ve come to the conclusion that I uncritically believed the dogma primarily to support my parents’ devotion, and now that they have passed, lacking that motivation, it’s all much more obvious to me. I agree with the author, that the worlds of faith and science are heuristically mutually exclusive. A simplified characteristic of science suggests a hypothesis must be falsifiable to be analyzed. Since science cannot disprove God, God is not a scientific hypothesis, and, as the author points out, somehow depending on a scientific suggestions of God’s existence because there is no other proof of the First Mover at the moment, is a short term band-aid. Science has no duty to disprove God’s existence – I’d think that burden is on the believer. Belief in God is non-scientific – that’s the basis of faith – as said in Miracle on 34th Street – “believing in things when common sense tells you not to.” I have no objection to belief or non-belief – as brilliantly said in South Park’s Mormon episode – “you can judge us (Mormon’s) on what we believe, or you can judge us on how what we believe causes us to act.” or something to that effect. This is especially key when one is making the leap from whatever First Mover/Creator may have set our world in motion – be it nature or an intelligent being – and the mythology of the Hebrew Bible, Christian Bible, Koran, or whatever book you choose to follow.

  • avalpert

    Mike’s point is a particularly stupid one. It most certainly does not take an expert in car design to spot obvious flaws like the bar across the top of the PT Cruiser convertible and it doesn’t take infinite wisdom to spot the design flaws in human beings.

    Quite the contrary, even with my very limited finite knowledge I can spot design flaws in natural beings that no intentional designer would be proud of (let alone could make if he did have infinite wisdom and capability). Heck, we have been adjusting those design flaws for generations to make our bodies more useful and long lasting – everything from braces to eye glasses to appendectomies to hormone supplements demonstrate that.

    I agree, from the perspective of one who recognizes that all creatures developed through evolutionary processes that include random components there is no good or bad design – just the entity as it is. But that doesn’t preclude finding ways in which, if the process by which it came to be had not been random, we would have expected different outcomes. That is a burden on those who want to insist on some sort of intelligent design of the finished products – and one that is rightfully ridiculed.

  • mikehorn

    In many ways we agree. ID folks hold up “irreducible complexity” as one of their arguments, plus fine tuning, a part of which is the amazing human body. The human animal makes a great bit of sense in light of Evolution, where we descended from something else and our traits came from earlier creatures for the most part. The human eye, optically, is “upside down and backwards” to borrow a phrase. The nerves, lenses, retina, blind spot, general fragility, and sensitivity are at best mediocre in the animal world right now, and often just bad design. But they were NOT designed. They evolved from earlier forms, far enough back definitely simpler and less capable forms. But they evolved from concave light sensitive patches of skin, which is where the “upside down” came from. Most of the human body is middling in comparison to other animals. Eyes, smell, hearing, legs, strength, speed, are all moderate or weak. Our brains, our distance running endurance, dexterous hands, and omnivorous/generalist diet are what our species is great at. The rest we simply are not. We didn’t evolve to be good at them.

    About the God, expert silliness, it makes no sense. You don’t know who I am, so what makes you think I am any particular profession? What difference does that make at our level? I contend a certain level of scientific and theological literacy, enough to speak and argue intelligently on this subject. Since you are here, too, then you claim something similar, making the criticism just as valid for you as me. It’s a wash, and makes no sense.

    I do run into people who hold religion and pseudo humility too high, and conversely think too low of education, literacy, critical thinking, and scientific curiosity. A favorite epithet is “making yourself a god”, but in reality I’m using the brain I was given and a work ethic applied to gaining new knowledge. That “self made God” insult I take as a compliment, in a backwards way, since I’ve used my gifts attempting to be better. Catholicism teaches that we were made in god’s image, and I’m only using what I was given. Better that than not using it, ignoring a gift, calling evil what should be a good thing. That sort of anti-intellectualism is common, but not a good trait in a society or in a person.

    • Nick Rogers

      All of this simply indicates that the balance of features we have is a product of our evolution into our own specific niche…there is no sense in saying that anything is a “bad” design. What is your definition of bad? Maladaptive? The traits we have, have resulted in our particularly dominant place at the top of the food chain, to use a crude generalization by virtue of the fact that we are unquestionably the most adaptive species on the planet.

      To say that our eye sight is “mediocre” compared to say, a bird of prey, is like saying a wolf is short compared to a giraffe. So what? To imply that somehow because we are not extremely good at some things is to simply point out that organisms are good at different things.

      “But they were NOT designed. They evolved from earlier forms, far enough back definitely simpler and less capable forms.”

      See, that is exhibit A about what I hate about both sides of the intelligent design debate. A blind assertion followed by a statement which does not logically prove anything.

      Evolution neither proves or disproves design. Life evolves, that is a fact. Natural selection occurs. This does not say anything about the origination of the system. Life is like a very complicated chain of dominoes…of sheer deterministic chemical reactions stretching on forever. The way the dominoes fall does not indicate what the start of the reaction was. I can imagine that the chain of dominoes had a start…and someone to knock over the first one. I can also imagine an infinite chain of dominoes existing by itself. Some people say that the chain of dominoes started 6000 dominoes ago, and someone has been coming over and periodically knocking over pieces to make sure everything goes in the correct direction (creationists). Others argue that there is no person who ever knocked any dominoes over and they have simply been knocking themselves over (scientific materialists).

      “Since you are here, too, then you claim something similar, making the
      criticism just as valid for you as me. It’s a wash, and makes no sense.”

      You are claiming that though you are not a professional, you nonetheless have the ability to talk about the human eyeball as a “bad” design as if you have the insight to say so. Prove to me that you do; what objective knowledge do you have, and what definition of bad are you using, that allows you to call a part of the human organism, “bad”?

      Pointing to a particular feature of our bodies and saying “gee, this isn’t as good as I could imagine it to be” is like saying “gee, I can imagine a world without earthquakes.” Yes, you can, but that does not mean such a world is possible. Earthquakes are the product of a very, very complex system. Nothing in nature is arbitrary, everything has a reason, even if its a deterministic reason and there is no god. How do you know, for instance, that the human eyeball being “upside down and backwards” is not a necessary part of our structure? You yourself point out that particular features evolutionary lineage; this is how things had to be for us to be how we are. Do you know what the repercussions would be for the whole organism if we had to make the eyeball right-side up?

      “great at. The rest we simply are not. We didn’t evolve to be good at them.”

      What do you mean by great and good?

      “I do run into people who hold religion and pseudo humility too high, and
      conversely think too low of education, literacy, critical thinking, and
      scientific curiosity. A favorite epithet is “making yourself a god”,
      but in reality I’m using the brain I was given and a work ethic applied
      to gaining new knowledge. That “self made God” insult I take as a
      compliment, in a backwards way, since I’ve used my gifts attempting to
      be better. ”

      I’m not trying to be rude, I’m just trying to be honest, that paragraph is the kind of thing which makes people hate you as a know it all who loves to talk about how smart you are; praise yourself less and your arguments will be taken more seriously. You think humility is held too highly, well pride is certainly still something bad. And I think we can both agree on that. Just food for thought, no offense meant.

      “Catholicism teaches that we were made in god’s image, and I’m only using what I was given.”

      Catholicism, or at least Catholic philosophy, also teaches that contingent beings IE things like us that depend on other stuff for existence are by definition imperfect by virtue of that fact. Therefore, “imperfection” is ours by nature. That might help explain how a Catholic universe, for instance, with the Catholic god, could have eyeballs that are upside down and backwards. Food for thought.

  • dr.gspangloss

    Yes I am. If my understanding of Quantum Theory is correct , some particles, as well as Universes come into existence ex nihilo . There is no known cause , only mathematical equations which very accurately predict the proportion of , for instance , particles (Y ) , which will undergo decay and emit particles (X) . But many Atheist argue that the apparent fine tuning is simply the the result of blind luck.”Out of an infinite number of Universes , we happen to be in the one , or one of only a fraction , in which conditions were right for the Evolution of life and consciousness. Mind you ,we cannot observe these Universes directly . I’m not sure if “Some proportion of the Multi-verse contains lifeless Universes” is a stipulation , or a sine qua non which underpins the predictive value of Quantum Mechanics . If we live in a Multi-verse, and all it’s Universes contained intelligent life , would Quantum Mechanics still hold it’s predictive power . I believe so. Perhaps it’s purely a philosophical position . Even If only a fraction , a fraction of infinity is still infinite .But If only one of an infinite number contains life, the answer to the question -“Were we lucky, or chosen ? “remains equivocal with regards to the Philosophical strength(consistency) of the World View which one holds.

    • Nick Rogers

      So…the end result is that rather we live in one of many universes or the only one is ultimately irrelevant to the atheism vs. theism debate because both models of reality can fit either world view?

  • John Doman

    Okay. There are a lot of people out there, sir, that say that Science DISPROVES God. That belief in God’s existence is as unreasonable as believing in fairies or dragons. That any true scientist could not believe in God. This is what people are being taught. This is becoming the common knowledge.
    Are you not aware of this?

    • Carol

      Exactly right, John. Anytime I get in a conversation with someone about evolution, I’m always told that science PROVES evolution is true. There is no Creator, we are merely the result of some random acts of the universe and we just evolved over millions of years from some sort of fish-like creatures. Fossils and scientific “evidence” supposedly prove this. Therefore, disproving their “science” has to be part of the conversation, otherwise they will never believe.

    • Facile1

      Science is the study of evidence (non-singular and repeatable). So how can Science disprove anything (much less GOD)?

      • John Doman

        Exactly. But people are still saying it.

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  • I was really looking for the image to use on my blog. But ended up reading a bit and I was struck by the definition of God in this article as “Being Itself”. My first thought was that this theology is straight out of the Upaniṣads. It’s as good a definition of Brahman as I have seen. Or it could be Kant’s definition of the noumenon. I suppose the point is that there doesn’t seem to be anything very Christian about this definition. Or anything very practical for the purposes of day to day life. Brahman is forever beyond our knowledge, since we can only know phenomena, and thus irrelevant to our lives. Brahman does not participate in the world of phenomenon, is not an agent that can affect such a world. This leaves us with a otiose God. There’s not reason to obey or worship such a God because these actions would make no difference to that God, or to us. And this is the conclusion also of the Bhagavadgīta – the world of phenomena is just a world of illusion. Nothing we do or that happens to us matters. Superimposed on this is the notion of religious duty that is very foreign to Christianity and thus not so relevant.

    Science makes God irrelevant by showing that physics is sufficient to account for all phenomena. No noumenon is required to account for how the universe is. If it’s not required then the principle of parsimony argues that we don’t add something to the explanation if it doesn’t serve a purpose. The response to this is some kind of God of the Gaps argument, but this can hardly be satisfying to anyone who believes in God because the gap keeps shrinking.

  • Jake

    Science speaks for itself: The existence of a god does not rise even to the level of hypothesis. Therefore it can only be argued by people who, not using pure science, are already believers in a creator.

    • RobertRoyal

      Jake, you misunderstand the question. Science observes empirical data. God, the Christian God, by definition is a transcendent entity approachable via philosophical analysis, not observation. Certain mathematical truths have a similar nature. You should try reading Edward Feser’s The Last Superstition, which tries to explain the misconception that science has something to say about God, or religion about science.

  • Udaybhanu Chitrakar

    It is not actually necessary that fine-tuning of certain parameters will have to be there for proving the existence of God, because existence of God can also be proved even if there is no fine-tuning.