Stop me if you have heard this one: Scientific belief is based on evidence, belief in God is based on faith and faith is believing in something in spite of the evidence.
The belief that God and science are competing explanations is a common sentiment among atheists.
“Religion is outdated in the 21st century… [God] is irrelevant in science. The more we’ve learned about the natural world, the more we’ve learned that you don’t need God to explain anything.” – Lawrence Krauss
This attitude is becoming especially common on the popular level with more and more celebrities and TV shows portraying an adversarial relationship between God and Science.
“Stay away from the church. In the battle over science vs. religion, science offers credible evidence for all the serious claims it makes. The church says, ‘Oh, it’s right here in this book, see? The one written by people who thought the sun was magic?'” – Seth MacFarlane
So is there a conflict between faith and science? Considering the number of elite scientists who have said so, it seems reasonable to conclude that there is. This was the subject when Dr. Jim Tour took the stage at West U Baptist Church on Monday night.
In this blog entry I will briefly review Dr. Tour’s presentation and add a few of my thoughts on the “God vs Science” debate as well.
- But science says…
- Is there any scientific evidence for God?
- Atheism vs science?
But science says…
We are often told what “science says” about theism, atheism and the origin of life, etc. However, I believe that this personification of science is inappropriate. Science is a wonderful and effective tool for gathering data, but as Dr. Frank Turek is fond of pointing out, science does not say anything – scientists do! This seemed to be Dr. Tour’s primary contention when he took the stage on Monday for the August Apologetics conference.
From the moment Dr. Tour stepped up to the podium, he was electric. He spoke with an obvious passion for chemistry, a field in which he is a prominent figure. Mouths dropped as he described brilliant advancements in biochemistry as well as the beauty and sophistication of the “simple cell”. The technical aspect of the presentation left the audience in awe and, at least in my case, considerable confusion. However, there was no confusion about his point – The more we understand about the mechanisms of biology and chemistry, the less able we are to explain their origins. Scientists, according to Dr. Tour, who claim that science can explain origins (let alone disprove theism) have gone well beyond the evidence.
Dr. Tour’s criticism of “unjustified extrapolation” by scientists reminded me of a quote by the scientist and contrarian, David Berlinski:
“Has anyone provided proof of God’s inexistence? Not even close. Has quantum cosmology explained the emergence of the universe or why it is here? Not even close. Have our sciences explained why our universe seems to be fine-tuned to allow for the existence of life? Not even close. Are physicists and biologists willing to believe in anything so long as it is not religious thought? Close enough. Has rationalism and moral thought provided us with an understanding of what is good, what is right, and what is moral? Not close enough. Has secularism in the terrible 20th century been a force for good? Not even close, to being close. Is there a narrow and oppressive orthodoxy in the sciences? Close enough. Does anything in the sciences or their philosophy justify the claim that religious belief is irrational? Not even in the ball park. Is scientific atheism a frivolous exercise in intellectual contempt? Dead on.” – David Berlinski, The Devil’s Delusion
It seems to me, therefore, that many in the sciences reject theism for ideological and philosophical reasons, not for scientific ones.
Is there any scientific evidence for God?
We have seen that the critics of theism have, in many cases, gone beyond the evidence in statements about the relationship between God and science, but has science given us any positive evidence FOR God’s existence? I believe emphatically that it has. Time and space to not permit me to develop these arguments to the extent that they deserve, but I will briefly cover two major ways in which scientific evidence supports theism.
Discoveries in cosmology: The best scientific evidence now supports the view that our universe had a beginning. The theological implications of this are inescapable. If the universe (being composed of time, space and matter) began to exist, then it follows that whatever caused the universe must be timeless, space-less and immaterial. These are the attributes of a theistic God. Here are a few scientific discoveries that support an absolute beginning to space-time:
- The “red-shift” of distant galaxies: Light, like sound, travels in waves. When an object is moving away from us, it appears red because the light waves are stretched out. Conversely, light moving towards us appears blue because the waves are compressed. The red shift observed in distant galaxies shows us that the universe is expanding and we can extrapolate from the whole of our observations that the universe was once condensed into a very small initial point.
- Cosmic microwave background radiation (CMB): Present everywhere in space, CMB is the residual heat of creation predicted by the big bang theory and discovered in 1964 by Robert Wilson and Arno Penzias. Read more about CMB and its implications here.
- The 2nd law of thermodynamics: Simply put, this law states that, as energy is transferred, more and more of it is wasted. What this means for our universe is that it is running out of usable energy and will eventually end in heat death. If the universe were eternal in the past, this “death” would have already occurred. If the amount of time in the past were infinite, we would have run out of energy by now according to the 2nd law of thermodynamics. Therefore, the universe is not eternal in the past, but had a beginning.
Cosmic fine-tuning: Science supports the teleological argument for God’s existence. That is, science provides evidence that our universe is inconceivably fine-tuned for our existence. We have identified dozens of fundamental constants in our universe that, if slightly altered, would make life impossible. What is the explanation of these initial conditions? One formulation of the teleological argument suggests that there are really only three; chance, necessity or design. Again, space does not permit a full treatment of this argument, but here is a brief overview:
- The fine-tuning of the universe is due either to physical necessity, chance or design.
- It is not due to physical necessity or chance.
- There is nothing about the laws of nature that require the initial conditions to be what they are.
- The odds that the initial conditions of the universe occurred by chance alone are extremely low. Roger Penrose has estimated that the odds of the low entropy state of the universe occurring by chance are 1:10(10) (123). This number is so unimaginably great that chance alone is not a credible explanation for the initial conditions.
- Therefore, it is due to design.
Atheism vs science?
Science, as we have seen, is often used to discredit religious belief. However, it is rarely asked if Atheism is compatible with science. Though most of us uncritically accept that it is, it will by my goal in this section to challenge this presupposition. I believe Atheism has a number of logical consequences that are problematic for doing science. To explain, science rests on assumptions that only make sense if God exists! I will focus here on two examples of this – rationality and free will.
- Rationality: To do science, we must assume that our faculties of reason are reliable. However, if atheistic materialism is correct, then our minds are the result of mindless, unguided chemical processes fully governed by the laws of physics. All of our thoughts are the result of complex chemistry in our brains. How then can we justify believing anything our minds tell us – including that God does not exist? If there is no immaterial reality, it follows that our minds only give the appearance of reasoning. Chemicals themselves, do not reason, they simply obey the laws of physics. Therefore, atheistic materialism undermines the reliability of our cognitive faculties.
- Free will: Similarly, we must assume that our thoughts, actions and research are undertaken freely. But if atheistic materialism is true, we are fully material, and therefore, fully determined. “DNA just is and we dance to its music” says Richard Dawkins. If this is the case, then our beliefs are not the result of logical deduction from reason or evidence, they are the result of a deterministic process that rules out the ability to know anything objectively. Consequently, any materialist who makes a ‘truth claim’ contradicts himself. Thus, if atheism is true, there is no reason to believe it.
Or am I wrong? Let me know in the comments.
[Editorial Note] It is not my intention to conflate Atheism and atheistic materialism. I acknowledge that not all Atheists are also materialists. However, I think materialism is the inevitable outcome if Atheism is taken to its logical conclusion. This requires some explaining and will be addressed in a future blog entry. And, as ever, is use a capital “A” in Atheism to describe someone who has the positive belief that “no god exists”.
You can watch Dr. Tour’s presentation HERE.