Does Science disprove God?

images-3It has become commonplace to hear from atheists that science has or will soon disprove God’s existence. ‘The godly hypothesis is not necessary,” we are told. “All of reality can be explained by the deliverances of science.” Examples of this thinking are easy to find:

Sean Carroll, a cosmologist with the California Institute of Technology, in an essay for The Blackwell Companion to Science and Christianity argues “conventional scientific progress will ultimately result in a self-contained understanding of the origin and evolution of the universe, without the need to invoke God or any other supernatural involvement.”[1]

The philosopher and scientist Victor Stenger similarly argues that the absence of evidence for God is evidence of the absence of God. In his book God: The Failed Hypothesis, Stenger writes,  “We have no evidence for Big Foot, the Abominable Snowman, and the Lochness Monster, so we do not believe they exist. If we have no evidence or other reason for believing in God, then we can be pretty sure that God does not exist.”[2]

 The eminent physicists Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow opine in The Grand Design that “…philosophy is dead. Philosophy has not kept up with modern developments in science, particularly physics. Scientists have become the bearers of the torch of discovery in our quest for knowledge.”[3] Instead, the universe creates itself out of nothing!

 The staunch atheist biologist Richard Dawkins claims that appeals to God lead to laziness in science. While discussing the so-called “god of the gaps” fallacy made by intelligent design theorists, Dawkins imagines the kind of message such a posture would send to scientists: “If you don’t understand how something works, never mind: just give up and say God did it…. Please don’t go to work on the problem, just give up, and appeal to God. Dear scientist, don’t work on your mysteries. Bring us your mysteries, for we can use them. Don’t squander precious ignorance by researching it away. We need your glorious gaps as a last refuge for God.”[4] The idea expressed here by Dawkins is that appeals to God are science-stoppers—they don’t add to knowledge, they actually shut down the process. Why? Because science will one day explain all mysteries and provide us a unified theory of everything.

I could go on, but I you get the idea. What I find interesting about all of these claims is that they are philosophical claims about the nature of science! These kinds of grand pronouncements about the unlimited scope of scientific explanation are not deliverances of science, rather they are philosophical assumptions brought to the scientific enterprise. And here in lies the problem: science does an excellent job in explaining many facets of the natural world. But it has its limits. It can’t explain all of reality, thus it can’t disprove the existence of God. Nor can it render the godly hypothesis obsolete.

Here are at least two limits to science, discussed by the philosopher J.P. Moreland in his book Christianity and the Nature of Science:[5]

1. Presuppositions of Science: There are a number of preconditions or presuppositions of science which must be assumed if science is to be possible. Importantly, they are philosophical presuppositions brought to science. Examples include:

  • “the existence of the external, orderly, and knowable world” The belief that there is a mind-independent ready-made world that exhibits various kinds of order (e.g., the distinction between cause and effect, object and its attributes, the unity of a single thing, the plurality of distinct things, etc.) and can be discovered by the deliverances of science is a philosophical positions brought to science, not a deliverance of science.

 

  • the uniformity of nature and induction” In order for science to make predictions and offer explanations, it needs to assume the uniformity of a nature and the validity of induction. Both of these assumptions are philosophical in nature, they are assumed by scientists in order for science to be possible.

 

  • “The reliability of the senses and the mind” Science assumes that our senses are reliable guides to the external world and that our intellect (or mind) is a reliable guide in conceptualizing the phenomena of the external world. Even branches of science that study the brain (neuroscientist) only seek to answer descriptive questions about the brain (not the mind!) whereas philosophy seeks to justify the deliverances of the mind.

 

  • “The adequacy of language to describe the world” Science presupposes that language is an adequate medium for referring and stating truths about the world.

 

  •  “Singularities, Ultimate Boundary Conditions, and Brute Givens” Some features of the universe are, from a scientific perspective, brute givens—they are just there and science uses them to explain other things, even as they remain unexplained. The laws of nature, and the initial conditions of the universe are such brute givens. The cosmic singularity of the Big Bang is a brute given, scientifically speaking—philosophy may ask what caused the Big Bang, but not science.

 

2. There is knowledge outside science: Some issues/areas of study do not interface with science at all, claims (e.g.) in theology, history, ethics, and more. This doesn’t mean that each of these areas never interact with science, still the point is that some issues lie outside the scope of science, and they can still be rationally evaluated, and count as knowledge.

As the philosopher of science, Nicholas Rescher puts it:

“Science does not have exclusive rights to ‘knowledge:’ its province is far narrower than that of inquiring reason in general. Even among the ‘modes of knowledge,’ science represents only one among others….there are many other areas in which we have cognitive interest—areas wholly outside the province of science.”[6]

So don’t be fooled by the rhetoric coming from atheist scientists. They may want all of reality to be explained by science, but that is one wish that science will never grant.

Check out this excellent little video where William Lane Craig addresses the limits of science:

http://youtu.be/cJrMFv6QoX0

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


[1] Sean Carroll, “Does the Universe Need God?”, in J. Stump and Alan Padgett eds. The Blackwell Companion to Science and Christianity (Wiley-Blackwell, 2012).

[2] Victor Stenger, God: The Failed Hypothesis (Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2008), 18.

[3] Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow, The Grand Design (New York: Bantam Books, 2010), 5.

[4] Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion (NY: Houghton Mifflin, 2008 ed.), 159.

[5] J.P. Moreland, Christianity and the Nature of Science (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1998), chapter 3.

[6] Nicholas Rescher, Limits of Science (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984), 214-5

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