Proving God (and Everything Else)

In a previous article I suggested that, even if it were able to prove the existence of God, science would not be sufficient grounds for us to believe it. It may not be obvious why — and some might even take exception to such a claim. But the reason is found in the fact that a truth that strikes to the core of our way of life requires more certainty than even science is able to provide.

We tend to think of science as establishing truth beyond a shadow of doubt. For example, we regard science as having “proven” that we evolved, and having “proven” that the universe is very old, or having “proven” that matter consists of atoms and molecules. As if the main goal and accomplishment of science is to establish what is true.

But ultimately, science is less concerned about establishing what is true as it is predicting outcomes. Take for example a space probe launched from earth — one of science’s greater accomplishments. Science has an entire body of principles and models for predicting where that probe will end up if it is launched at a given velocity (and a host of other givens). Newtonian laws of motion, the constant of gravity, the weight of the rocket, etc., are all factored into that prediction.

If science (hypothetically) were able to prove the existence of God, what would that look like? And would it be enough for us to believe in Him?

Not only that, but what we know about electromagnetism, the properties of matter and gases are also factored into the calculations during the construction of the spacecraft itself, all in order to achieve the desired end result, which is a landing upon Mars and subsequent exploration of its surface. If science can achieve that goal, it has pretty much done its job.

It matters less, though, whether science is ultimately true. That is, whether gravity is actually real, or Newtonian laws of motion describes something that actually exists. Some scientists have stated as such: That the principles and models that scientists employ to predict outcomes may not reflect reality as much as they provide intellectual constructs to help us think about them. The interesting thing is that it ultimately does not matter so long as science works.

This does not mean that science is not describing something, of course. One of the profoundly fascinating aspects of science is that the world in which we live can be understood at all — not only rationally, but also mathematically. The fact that the natural world operates consistently even to the point that it can be expressed by mathematical equations is astounding. There is really no reason why this should be so. (Or for that matter, that we should be able to understand it – but that is a topic for another time).

Now in most cases this distinction between certainty and predictability does not matter. But when it comes to weightier matters such as the existence of God and its potential ramifications on our very way of life, it becomes far more relevant. Taking an analogy from science, it can be compared to the effect of gravity on time (as predicted by the theory of relativity).

Einstein predicted that the rate of time is not constant. In fact, it varies depending on the strength of the gravitational field it is in (astounding, but true). In everyday life on earth, it matters little. But taken on a cosmological scale, it matters greatly — as any astrophysicist will tell you.

Likewise, in its effort to make our lives better, it matters little whether science is true or just works. But taken on a scale the size of God, the distinction becomes paramount, and science is not up to the task, simply because its strength of certainly is far less.

So what do you think? If science (hypothetically) were able to prove the existence of God, what would that look like? And would it be enough for us to believe in Him? If not, what is the way by which we can be certain of his existence, enough say to radically change our lives for Him? I welcome your comments!

18 thoughts on “Proving God (and Everything Else)

  1. You propose a paradox. Science cannot prove the existence of God, because God is not a quantifiable, measurable phenomenon. Science has already proven that several ideas which used to be God, or magic, or fate, are *not* that, but rather, phenomenon which can be measured and predicted. While I can allow that perception is subjective, what is the definition of truth if not “the basis of reproducible results”?

    Science’s role is to question. Faith’s role is to not question. There can be no way for science to be certain of God’s existence, because certainty implies truth, which for science implies reproducible results. Since God is not reproducible or predictable, God’s existence is not scientifically true, and the believer must rely on faith.

    If you want to radically change your life based on an uncertainty, go ahead, and good luck. I prefer facts which I can continue to question as more information becomes available.

    1. Thank you for your feedback, Ernest. I agree with you: Science cannot prove the existence of God (not really what I am proposing, by the way).

      I find your question concerning truth fascinating: “What is the definition of truth if not ‘the basis of reproducible results’?” There are several things in life that are not reproducible, or testable. Morals, for example. Logic itself is another. And lastly, if we claim that the only truth is that which can be reproduced and tested, then the claim itself fails that litmus test, since it is not reproducible or testable.

      Thanks again, and keep blogging!

      1. Interesting. Morals are not facts; they are subject to interpretation and perception. Logic is only a method for stating (establishing) truth. Truth can indeed be reproduced and tested, by its nature… unless you want to argue semantics.

        Let’s consider an example. A man jumps off a 500-foot cliff headfirst. Is it moral for him to do so? You and I may say no, but he may consider it a moral correction (having just committed some grievous crime). Will he such a fall kill him? I am willing to consider results to the contrary, but the likelihood of his death is so high that I consider it a fact, a truth, that yes, the fall will kill him.

        Why? Because I know from empirical evidence that people, who are essentially, physically, just bags of water, cannot withstand enormous amounts of blunt trauma. I also know the height of the cliff, and the truth that a body falls at about 30 feet per second per second. Logically, it follows that the jumper is so unlikely to survive as to be called truth that his actions will lead to death.

        So, in sum, the only truth in my example is that this poor guy is going to collide with something and (quite probably) die. Logic and morals are interesting, but not truth, and will not save him.

  2. ^ernest^ It is a shame to say that God is not reproducible and thus not scientifically true when we have neither defined “him” nor espoused dedicated evidence to the contrary (nor could we without definition). I prefer humility then when facts are not present.

    ^patrick^ I think a scientific proof of God would almost be more like evidence of direct interaction more than anything else. After all, Ernest does have a point that if God is immaterial, how could you measure “Him”? And even then, if we could measure “His” effects, to what would we ascribe them? To God, or some other higher unknown phenomena? It’s a tricky situation, and so I think you’d really have to spend some time defining “God” and what you would be looking for so that science could take a real stab. As for how to be certain, I don’t see how one could, but there are also many things we can’t be certain of. The best we can do is to weigh our experience and our knowledge and then go with what seems true to us. Regardless, however, we will be in Plato’s cave a little bit. We just have to make due. 🙂

    1. Thanks, onpage28, for your thoughtful (and though-provoking) comment. I agree with you that scientific processes would have great difficulty taking on the task of proving God’s existence, which suggests it is the wrong tool for the task. And I would also agree that evidence “of direct interaction more than anything else” is more along the lines of evidence we need.

      Thanks again!

    2. Page 28, the burden of proof falls on believers, does it not? If I tell you I believe that placing my hand in the fire will burn my skin, we can try it and I will be proven correct. If you tell me that you believe my hand will not be burned, we can try it, and you will be proven incorrect. If we have no fire to test the hypothesis, then why should either of us believe anything?

      Just to be clear, I have no problem with anyone believing in the metaphysics of their choice. I personally believe that “God” is “The Unknown”… and that it is worthwhile to investigate God and at the same time poetically futile, since the more we know, the more questions and unknowns we uncover. Humility is fine, and appropriate.

      What I object to is people who make decisions involving others, claiming their basis in truth, when it based on something other than truth. To get back to (at least part of) Patrick’s point, the distinction between certainty and predictability does not matter in most cases. This is solely because of reproducible results, such as my fire example. I would argue that certainty and predictability do not matter in the case of the God’s Existence question, but only because there are no reproducible results, that is, *there is no fire*.

      1. Then I believe largely we would feel the same way on most. I’m not entirely sure I would agree that there is no fire, so to speak. Like I was saying to Patrick, if “god” is immaterial, then sure we can’t quite touch “him” with material methods. If god is expected to have any effect on our physical world however, define that effect (that of prayer for instance), and then we can note that something must be causing it (or not). I like your words “poetically futile” though because if indeed something as such were causing a direct action on our world, we’d have to recognize that thing’s existence, while perhaps being stuck in regards to exactly what it is. Such nearly seems our universe to me as is hah.

        So there’s little scientific proof there, but I think it’s wrong to let that be the ultimatum on belief. Dogmatic belief is a completely different story, but to say “I believe” as “Given the available ideas, this is my thought” seems perfectly reasonable to me, even to such extent that you would make some life decisions upon it. There is, after all, worth to intuition and feelings when tempered by reason. And perhaps one day a definition of god might come forth that is more testable. Or perhaps not and our universe does indeed house immaterial “things(?”, and we shall forever speak of such in the same confusing way we currently speak of matter and the conscious.

      2. Indeed. The series of circular images by MC Escher, for instance Circle Limit III, illustrates this nicely for me. You can continue to seek the edge of knowledge, but that only makes the circumference bigger. Thanks for the discussion.

  3. Wow! Very intriguing post!

    What could also be discussed is if truth really exists or, as the post says, “whether gravity is actually real” or just a concept that is so far “true” – until another theory comes because of a phenomenal that takes all the predictability away from the once known concept of “gravity”, proving it to be wrong and “old way of thinking”. Maybe what we know as “gravity” doesn’t exist after all, but is stated as “true” because believing that such a force exists eliminates lots of questions (such as “Why don’t we continue going upwards when we jump?” and “What holds the solar system together?”.

    Some “truths” and “facts”, for example, that have “changed”, are the numbers of planets in our Solar System, the existence of Atlantis and who build the Egyptian pyramids. Does the truth change? Does it even exist? If so, maybe only to determined people, cultures, and in a specific period of time. And so “truth” may have more base in faith than we realise. So, for example, one saying that they believe in *evolution* bases that on the same amount of truth AND faith than another person that says they believe in *creationism*.

    Something else that I’d like to point out is that humans are curious creatures – they want to know about (and be sure of) everything. But, believing God is a *Higher Being* means that we cannot simply place God in a box and analyse Him. In fact, that’s something that the study of Theology itself tries to do and can’t. It’s like saying saying science can give us the meaning of supernatural things that occur and how miracles happen without *divine intervention*. – It can’t!

  4. Thank you everyone for your posts to date. Time prohibits me from engaging in some of the discussion as much as I would like, but I would just weigh in with this: The Christian perspective is that God is knowable, though not necessarily testable or reproducible as it has been defined.

    Keep blogging!

  5. I do not know what it would take to prove the existence of God, but one could also wonder what it would be like if science were to prove that God does not exist. What if science were able to show and demonstrate that the universe could arise from nothing?

    1. Great question, twistedphilosophy (btw love the name). If science were to prove that the Universe arose from nothing, it would probably neither prove nor disprove the existence of God, unless the existence of God would exclude the Universe arising from nothing.

      It is an interesting question, however: Can science alone ultimately prove or disprove God? Or, anything for that matter, beyond the observable Universe? I would argue that it cannot, for by definition, anything beyond the observable Universe is beyond its reach. The question then becomes whether we believe science has authority to do what it is unable, and conclude its inability constitutes nonexistence. If that makes sense.

  6. I don’t believe either of us can say what science is or isn’t capable of. The advances of science have been amazing in the last couple centuries, especially most recently in the quantum side. So to say that anything beyond the “observable” universe is assuming that science can go no further. Before Galileo, looking into the sky was the observable universe, thus by your definition anything beyond that was beyond the reach of science. That was true at the time, but look at the observable universe now. We can now see galaxies so far away that the light we see from them was first emitted 12-billion+ years ago. I take the stance that, although we cannot see everything now, who is to say that in 10 years or 100 years, we won’t be able to see everything. I think the potential discovery of the ability of the universe to arise on its own completely from nothing doesn’t disprove God only because you don’t want it to. Therefore, no, science could never disprove the existence of God in the same way that no one could ever prove the existence of God.

    1. This might help clear things up: By observable Universe, I mean physical, material universe, as in Dawkin’s definition: “There is nothing beyond the natural, physical world, no supernatural, creative intelligence lurking behind the observable universe.” (see my previous post here

      Regarding your assertion that the potential discovery that nothing gave rise to something — and that at a magnitude of the Universe — would not disprove God because I do not want it to, is based on the assumption that my faith in God is based solely on what science cannot explain. I cannot speak for others, but that is not the basis of my belief in God. This is a common line of reasoning I have heard from many, and it is reasonable, but I must admit, I don’t believe I have ever met anyone who claimed to believe in God on that basis.

      Thanks again, and hope you stop by on future posts.

      1. I understand your definition of observable universe, but again, that has changed throughout history as well. Electromagnetic waves, for instance, would have never been considered “observable” until they were discovered and were in fact observable. Light would not be considered “material” if not for photon particles. At one point, we considered what we see as all there is, until we discovered even that breaks down into other particles. The atom used to be considered the smallest particle in the universe. Now, we know that the atom is made up of many other particles (protons, electrons, gluons, quarks, leptons, etc.)

        To clarify the last point, I would not say that I believe people base their belief in God on the things science cannot explain. These have only been the basis for arguments of the existence of God. I am aware that a person’s belief is based on their faith and the bible. That’s why I say that nothing in science, even the fact of something arising from nothing, would not change a believers view of God. The most that would arise from that is a change in the view of how the universe came to be. Instead of saying “God created the Heavens and the Earth”, it would change to “God created the laws of the universe”, stating that He created what was needed for the universe to create itself.

        I don’t challenge anyone’s belief and I respect your belief. I think that religion does play an important part in society and I would never disagree with the fact that for some it offers a sense of hope, humility, grace, and love. The only time I do have a problem with religion is when a negative action arises in the name of religion. The debate over the existence of God has always been fascinating to me and that is perhaps why I partake in it because it is the ultimate debate; immortal in a sense because it will never end. If humanity could co-exist, full of all of its differing beliefs, and manage to put our differences aside and not judge based on beliefs, I think humanity will have finally reached the level of knowledge and understanding it needs to better the world.

      2. Thanks, twistedphilosophy. I appreciate your thoughtful input. Would love you to visit again.

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