If anything has led to the loss of religious faith in the modern world, it is the idea that “science” has proven that God does not exist. Much of the disdain in our society toward religious faith I spoke about in our last post can be traced back to this idea.
Which may not be obvious. But to the extent society believes that God is an irrational concept, those who believe in God will be seen not only as violators of human freedom but also violators of compassion and justice.
To understand why, consider a person in a certain town who has been arrested, judged and sentenced as a criminal according to the law of the land. But now imagine the townspeople suddenly discover, as though awaking from a dream, that there is no law because there is no land. The situation would dramatically change: We would no longer find a criminal lawfully detained by the just; we would instead find an innocent man unlawfully detained by criminals.
When belief in God is regarded by society as irrational, those who believe in God (who is the source of right and wrong) are seen not only as violators of human freedom but of compassion and justice as well.
This is the impact on religious faith when the concept of God is lost. It is why we see protest signs in our day that say, “religious freedom is intolerance.” We who believe in God have suddenly found ourselves to be criminals.
So the idea that science has proven that God does not exist — at least a God who reserves the right to dictate right and wrong concerning human behavior — is important. But has science actually proven this?
Now by “proven”, I do not mean science has literally conducted an experiment and determined God could not possibly exist. That would be impossible. But what I mean is: Has the unrelenting progress of science in nearly every field of study in the past three or four centuries rendered the belief in God so without justification that only the gullible, the indoctrinated and the timid could cling to such belief? That based on what we now know, is the evidence for God so lacking that intellectual honesty demands we abandon such unwarranted belief?
Based on what we now know, is the evidence in favor of God so lacking that intellectual honesty demands we abandon such unwarranted belief? I do not believe so.
I do not believe so. And I base this belief on rational judgment, not faith. In fact, rationally speaking, the only baseless thing about such a claim is the claim itself.
Now I do not wish to be unkind by saying this. I am sure there are many sincere individuals who believe God is dead and science has been the one to bury Him. Nonetheless, what gives the claim that science has “proven” God nonexistent (or at least highly doubtful) its intellectual force is neither science nor reason. It is actually narrative.
The idea that science has disproved God is based on a way of seeing the world that goes something like this:
For millions of years mankind was mired in his own superstition and ignorance till, one day, he discovered Science. Science is the means by which mankind understands all truth. Science is also the means by which he overcomes all natural, psychological, social and economic evils. Science is mankind’s salvation and destiny.
Now if this view of the world is true, then hands down, science has killed God. For it certainly stands to reason God must not exist, since science — which has now been practiced for several centuries — has not found a trace of Him.*
The idea that science has disproved God is based not on science but on a way of seeing the world, a narrative not arrived at by scientific or rational rigor but by indoctrination.
The problem with such reasoning, however, is twofold. First, it not arrived at by scientific or rational means. In other words, science has not proven that science is the means by which mankind understands all truth. It is at best a hope.
Secondly, such a view fails to understand what science is. Science is a discipline that confines itself to study of the natural world. This is not a deficiency of science: It is its stated purpose. To suggest therefore that a discipline confined to the natural world has proven the nonexistence of a world that lies beyond the natural world, solely based on its inability to discover it, is somewhat irrational.
Further, science today not only confines its study to the natural world but explicitly assumes a supernatural world does not exist. I do not mean those who practice science necessarily believe this. I mean that as a method, science assumes the natural world is all there is, then proceeds to find the best explanation based on that premise. It says, “Assuming neither God nor angels nor demons exist, what is the best explanation for x?” This is all fine and well as far as the objective of science is concerned.
But again, to suggest a discipline that assumes no supernatural reality in the first place, and even excludes its possibility, has now proven there is no supernatural reality is rationally not sound.
To suggest science — a discipline confined to the study of the natural world which assumes no supernatural reality in the first place and even excludes the possibility — has proven there is no supernatural reality is rational folly of the highest order.
The ardent advocate of Science (by this I mean the narrative, not the discipline) when confronted with these facts often feels the very act of pointing them out is to assume the existence of a supernatural world without any basis, which they find to be irrational. But here again, such a response is itself irrational.
For the issue here is not a claim to any reality. At most, it is a claim to the possibility of such a reality. More accurately, however, it is simply pointing out that a method of inquiry that has explicitly limited itself to one world is by definition not in a position to make any claim about any other world.
To point out the limits of science is not to make a claim to the existence of the supernatural world: It is to simply point out that a method of inquiry that has explicitly limited itself to one world is by definition not in a position to make any claim about any other world.
Imagine a team of astronauts landing on a distant planet to explore its surface. They begin their effort by sending out a probe that is only able to detect sound. After several hours, they detect nothing: The planet’s surface is completely silent. One astronaut states, “Clearly there is no life here.” But another replies, “Wait. We have assumed life would be detectable by sound. Perhaps there is life out there that is absolutely silent.” To which the first responds, “Are you claiming belief in a reality that does not exist? That is irrational.”
We of course would call such a response ridiculous. We might even wonder how the astronaut made it on the team. But this very same reasoning is what we see when the claim is made that science has proven God does not exist: We see astronauts with much knowledge, but without much sense.
Yet this way of thinking dominates people’s views about religious faith in modern culture: They are pretty sure scientists and others who know about these things have disproved God. Why is this?
The ardent advocate of Science might argue it is because science has proven itself superior (even exclusive) in its ability to ascertain truth in the natural world and therefore should be trusted in all worlds. In other words, the sound probe, has proven itself so good at hearing, it should be assumed it is also perfect at seeing.
The ardent advocate of Science may argue that since science has proven itself superior to ascertain truth in one sphere, it should be trusted in all spheres. The sound probe in other words has proven itself so good at hearing, it should be assumed it is also perfect at seeing.
But the rational breach here should be obvious. In fact, in light of evolutionary thought in our day, one could argue that science is no more than a highly developed ability on our part to adapt to our environment: That its success has more to do with achieving what is advantageous for our survival and less to do with determining what is necessarily true. That is, what we consider to be true about scientific findings may be no more than a simple mental byproduct of our effort to adapt.
In light of evolutionary thought in our day and its belief that humanity’s greatest impulse is to survive, one could argue that science is no more than a highly developed ability on our part to adapt to our environment: That it has more to do with what is beneficial, and less to do with what is necessarily true.
If this is so, then mankind has not only intentionally confined science to the study of the natural world but cannot do otherwise. Think about it: If mankind is no more than a complex molecular machine, there is no rational reason to believe he would be able to “know truth” any more than an individual atom would know truth. He would be condemned to a world in which he manipulated and controlled, but never understood, reality.
The only hope he would have to believe otherwise would be, quite outside an evolutionary framework, that he had been somehow endowed with such understanding. That a source of Truth and Understanding outside himself had placed this ability inside him. This, after all, would be the most rational conclusion.
* Not even this is entirely true, but we will let this simplistic view of scientific findings remain for emphasis.