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. Continue reading “Proving God (and Everything Else)”

Faith: Truth by Relationship

Bertrand Russell, the late atheist and author of the book, “Why I am not a Christian,” is quoted as saying that though the claims of Christianity could be true, it lies outside the realm of knowledge to know for certain, and so is pointless to try. How different this is from my experience and those I know who have come into, and even now maintain, a personal relationship with Jesus.

But Russell should not be dismissed lightly, nor misunderstood. He is not glibly stating it is too much work to figure out if there is a God or not. Rather, he is saying it is impossible to know. That is, Russell is stating that knowledge of God, at best, could be no more than supposition.

From the standpoint of the rational mind, this is certainly true. There are many things we can know by our intellect, even regarding the possibility, even probability, of  God’s existence. Throughout history in fact many scholars have put forth compelling arguments for God’s existence. I love the following article by William Lane Craig that recaps the most popular of those here. These go a long way to establish the rational basis for a belief in God. But the point is, none of these arguments will bring you into a state of certainty concerning God’s existence. That is, they won’t get you from believing that there could be a God to knowing that there is a God. And this is Russell’s point.

But what Russell lacks is the imagination, or perhaps willingness, to consider that God may choose other means than man’s rational faculties to make Himself known. Let’s assume for a moment God exists and that He desires that man know this, even to the point that man’s ultimate happiness is at stake, as Christianity affirms: Does it make sense to assume that he would leave man to figure it out on his own? Is it reasonable to assume that man, and not God, would be the initiator of such knowledge? How then is the assumption that man’s intellectual ability is the only way to knowledge of God convincing? To be sure, if there is no God, then our reasoning faculty is all we have. But if there is a God, such an assumption is unwarranted. Russell’s declaration therefore is not a statement of fact but a decision.

From a Christian perspective, the notion that God would only be known by the powers of reason is not only not necessary but somewhat puzzling. For though the Christian may also determine the possibility of God through reason, ultimately his certainty in God’s existence is established through an entirely different faculty. It is called faith.

Now it is really important we be clear here as to what we mean by faith. Contrary to rampant misconception, faith is not a decision to affirm something as true without evidence (or even despite evidence to the contrary). In fact, it is not a decision at all. If it were, it would be no more than an arbitrary act of the will. In which case, we would have to agree with Russell here that such a decision would be meaningless.

In fact, I would go further and say that faith as mere decision is not only meaningless but impossible. I can say that I believe in unicorns, but that does not mean that I do. Even if I tell others that I believe in unicorns, start a bring-back-the-unicorns movement, seek out others who also believe in unicorns, or publish my statement of belief in unicorns, that will not change the facts about what I believe. This is because belief ultimately requires evidence. And when it comes to belief in God, that evidence must come from something beyond what the rational mind — or I would argue, even scientific discovery — can supply.

Imagine that someone came up with a logical proof for God that was airtight. Would we believe it?

Or, imagine for a moment that science proved the existence of God. Through empirical, airtight investigation, it was discovered with certainty that God existed, and he existed in the person of Molech, the ancient Semitic god, who requires child sacrifice. Would we believe it? Perhaps. But a more likely scenario is that the scientific findings would be discredited. The instruments used would be deemed faulty. If it was determined that the scientific instruments were without flaw and reliable, the underlying scientific principles of the experiment would be discounted. And even if the underlying scientific principles passed muster — that it was determined in order for the findings to be false, the basic laws of Newtonian/Quantum physics would have to be violated — we would most likely be reminded that science, despite its benefits to mankind, does not deal in absolute certainty. We might even go so far as to question the underlying philosophical assumptions of science and point out that its goal is to gain understanding of the material world concerning causal relationships and to make predictions, but is not necessarily able to determine what is ultimately true.

And who knows? We might even decide that science, after all, was not the best means of confirming the existence of God, and conclude that when it came to such matters, no one could be absolutely certain, and that it was nonsense even to talk about science being able to prove God in the first place. And we would go on with our lives.

The point is, when it comes to such weighty matters as God’s existence and the personal ramifications it might entail, even science is not sufficient to the task. It requires something beyond it. It requires not man trying to figure out God, but God reaching out to man. This is what the Christian calls faith. For the Christian, truth is not ultimately confirmed through analysis, but by relationship.

As a concluding thought: To our hypothetical scenario, someone may be quick to point out that it is preposterous to think that science would ever be able to confirm the existence of God in the manner described. And that, indirectly, is precisely the point: Of all the cognitive faculties in the heart of man, isn’t it interesting that in deciding a basis for what is ultimately true, we have chosen the one that guarantees us both the greatest autonomy, and least accountability.

Faith: Science and the Quest for Truth

In our last discussion, we looked at prominent scientist Stephen Hawking’s declaration that God is no longer necessary to explain the origin of the Universe. When we hear such things, it is easy to get the impression that God has somehow been declared dead, the idea being that if science were to explain all that there was to know, it would logically follow that God does not exist.

The ironic thing about such a line of reasoning is twofold. The first is that even if science has achieved, or were to achieve, such a feat, the discovery of such a world as we find that operates by consistent, predictable laws which can be reduced down to logic and mathematics, does more to suggest evidence for an Intelligence behind the Universe than it does to disprove it. But the second thing is that science, in managing to explain the world around us by purely natural processes, has merely done its job, and in so doing, has not so much dispelled the world of mystery as it has demonstrated its own limitations.

It seems elementary to point out that science is a discipline whose efforts are confined to the material world. This is its area of study, and further, it is also the area to which it is limited in attributing a cause. In other words, both the subject of study and the explanation must finds its roots in the material world. As an example, science can answer the question, “how does the biological cell function?” but it cannot answer the question, “Does God exist?” Likewise, in answer to the former question, science cannot say ,“God causes the cell the function.” The distinction here goes beyond capability and more to the definition of what we mean by cause: Science seeks to explain causal interrelationships: The interrelationship of objects to others (the cell functions in part by the actions of Mitochondria within the cell) and matter to governing principles (the apple falls because of the law of gravity). In this respect, science more closely explains to answer how the world around us functions, but not ultimately why.

As mentioned, this explanation of science is rather elementary, and it would be of little consequence, and hardly worth mentioning, except that in our day, science has been given a status of what seems the sole arbiter of truth, being placed in a position of confirming or denying all that we might know.

This was demonstrated well during an event while I was a freshman in college. A spontaneous debate took place in the middle of campus on the topic of abortion. At the moment I came upon the scene, a number of students in the crowd were challenging one woman and asking her, “How do you know abortion is wrong?” To which she responded, raising up a Bible in her hand, “Because of the Word of God!” This drew some negative responses. And one student in particular raised her hand to the sky and said, “Long live science!”

It was an interesting exchange and highlighted the near-sacred reverence science has been given in our academic culture. We no longer believe in the Bible; we believe in science.

I suppose by declaring, “Long live science,” my fellow university student was suggesting science was the only thing we really need to answer all questions of our existence, whether it be how the Universe was formed or whether aborting unborn children is an act of murder. But why would science be the best arbiter of right and wrong? How would it even determine a basis for morality? How, in fact, would it even confirm that there is such a thing?

In keeping with modern thought, the answer given is that science has proven, pretty much beyond any reasonable doubt, that there is nothing beyond the observable universe, and the sooner we all get over our personal notions of an imaginary world beyond it, the more suited we will be to have a serious discussion about morality (and every other topic, conceivably). But this is the very point we are making, namely, the current regard for science as the only reliable form of ascertaining truth is circular reasoning at its best, which goes as follows: There is nothing beyond the observable world because science, confined to confirming truth within the observable world, has not been able to confirm any reality beyond it.

But the skeptic might respond and say: “Okay, fine. A reality beyond what we observe could hypothetically exist. But even if we allow for that possibility, how could we know with any certainty? A reality that may exist but cannot be proven is hardly worth taking seriously.” This question is justified, but the conclusion is not. The error is to assume the same means of confirming truth in the observable world are the same as those for the metaphysical world. This clearly is not necessarily the case; in fact, considering the vast difference between the observable and metaphysical, there is good reason to believe this would not be the case.

Besides, I have never known someone to come to faith in Jesus Christ through a carefully orchestrated experiment. It’s something else entirely.

Faith: God is not Necessary

Not long ago, prominent scientist Stephen Hawking came out with a book and in it declared in so many words that God was no longer necessary to explain the origin of the Universe. To be specific, he states:

Because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing, . . . Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist. It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the universe going.

This claim is fascinating for several reasons, most notably because it would suggest science now purports to be an authority on the unseen. If Hawking means by nothing what it commonly means, which is nothing, then it would stand to reason science has found a way to explain phenomena beyond the limits of the observable Universe.

Science of course has no ability to do so. By its definition, it concerns itself with applying rigorous logic and careful observation to the world around us. And by the world around us, we mean the physical Universe. Science therefore cannot provide an explanation, at least responsibly, that invokes something beyond the physical, whether that be God or “nothing.”

We might argue that “nothing” is not essentially a metaphysical thing. Nothing is nothing. It does not exist beyond; it simply does not exist at all. That may be true, but neither is “nothing” something in the observable Universe, and so God and nothing share this in common.

But this does raise the question: What does Hawking mean exactly by “nothing” anyway?

In defense of Hawking, and contrary to representation by the press, Alan Boyle of Cosmic Log explains:

If Hawking is saying merely that something can arise from nothing willy-nilly, that’s not much of an explanation for the origin of the universe. What he’s actually saying . . . is that when we study the universe’s origins, we have to work our way back from the present, rather than assuming there’s an arbitrary point 13.7 billion years ago when Someone pressed the button on a cosmic stopwatch. And when you look at it that way, the universe looks more and more like a quantum phenomenon, in which a multitude of histories diverge [and] space and time fizzle out, so it can’t be said that there is a time before the big bang – just as you can’t say that there is something north of the North Pole.

So by nothing, Hawking does not mean exactly nothing — sort of. But before we go on, it is important we break down what Boyle is saying, especially for those not familiar with recent scientific history.

Let’s start with his mention of the “assumed arbitrary point 13.7 billion years ago when Someone pressed the button on a cosmic stopwatch.” Boyle is referring to the beginning of the Universe widely held by most scientists. But it is important to point out that this beginning point is anything but arbitrary. After all, far be it for the scientific community to assume a beginning of the Universe, let alone that Someone started it. The goal of science is to explain the world by natural processes, not create points beyond which there is no scientific explanation. And true scientists would be the last to arbitrarily suggest one.

In fact, at one point in the not too distant past, it was widely accepted that the Universe has no beginning at all, that it has always been the way it was, essentially eternal. So why would scientists now hold a beginning-of-the-Universe view?

The answer is modern scientific discovery. Scientific evidence now rather conclusively suggests that the Universe is expanding. This poses a problem to a belief in an ageless Universe, because if it is expanding, it must be expanding from a common point, and if ones goes back far enough in time, there must have been a time when the Universe was not expanding from, but actually occupying, that single point. This would suggest the Universe had a beginning. So the idea of a beginning to the Universe roughly 13.7 billion years ago was not arbitrary: It was scientifically necessary.

The idea of a beginning to the Universe raises questions. For example, if the Universe has a beginning, what existed before it (the proverbial “nothing”)? And what caused it to expand in the first place? Naturally, such questions have potential metaphysical ramifications.

Nonetheless, many scientific explanations have been put forth to attempt to explain the beginning of the Universe scientifically. And Hawking’s latest book is just one in a long line to do so.

According to Boyle, Hawking’s beginning of the Universe can be described as “a quantum phenomenon” in which “space and time fizzle out” and also “a point like the North Pole” before which nothing existed, not because there was nothing, but because it does not make sense to say there was. It also involves the idea of many possible universes or “many histories” which apparently all diverge at this same point. If this seems to be rather confusing and almost gibberish, it is because to some degree it is. What I mean is it is one scientist’s attempt to explain the Universe’s beginning, or rather “point of singularity” using scientific processes only.

You have to remember that Hawking is a scientist, and his task is to provide an explanation where the math works, not necessarily one to which the evidence, or even common sense, strongly points. He is trying to answer the question, “What else could account for this point in the past besides supernatural intervention?” The essence of his answer is as follows:

  • Time is not constant. I won’t go into this except to say that based on Einstein’s efforts, it has been shown that time can speed up or slow down, if you will (a crude explanation but it will suffice.)
  • If time is not constant, then it is at least conceivable that there is a point beyond which time does not even exist, i.e. it just “fizzles out.”
  • It is possible that the “point of singularity” suggested by scientific evidence is just such a point. That is, the point in the distant past is not only where all of the Universe was contained in a single point but also a point beyond which time itself ceases to exist.
  • If this is so, then — and this is the key point — nothing exists before that point because time does not exist. If time does not exist, asking what happened “before” does not make sense. This is the proverbial “north pole” beyond which is nothing north.
  • Gravity is apparently the cause of this hypothetical condition. Because gravity has been shown to affect both mass and time, gravity could be the force to explain the point of singularity and both time and space’s expansion. It is as though gravity is on a pendulum swing: At one extreme, space and time are collapsed into a single point, and somewhere between the other where space and time are fully expanded, is us, in the present.
  • Therefore, we no longer need Something to have started the Universe, because the “beginning” we see is not really a beginning: It is just the northern-most point of gravity’s pendulum swing.

Now when such an explanation is pitched, the key thing is to wade through the credentials and reputation of the person and ask: Is there anything of substance here? In the scientific world, the question to ask is: What new scientific evidence led to this theory? As Dr. William Craig points out, there is “nothing of scientific substance” that is new in Hawking’s latest book since his classic A Brief History of Time published several decades ago. He has simply pitched an explanation of what might have happened based on scientific principles and a lot of philosophical speculation. And if it is at all attractive, it is not so much for its compelling evidence as it is in giving contemporaries troubled by the philosophical implications of a beginning permission not to think about it. Instead of finding refuge in an eternal universe from the perspective of time, they now have permission to find refuge in an eternal universe from the perspective of gravity.

All said, this speaks volumes to the real reason I wished to reflect upon this topic which is this: In our time, science is given such over-arching authority on matters of truth that the line is largely blurred between scientific discovery and ultimate reality, as well as scientific findings and speculation, so much so that when someone from the scientific community wanders into the realm of pure philosophical conjecture, we do not even notice (nor, apparently, do they).

In Hawking’s case, he posits a rather elaborate explanation for how we might explain away the thorny issue of an inevitable beginning, and we walk away thinking he has made a new discovery that God is no longer necessary. But as mentioned above, this is not the first time the scientific community has held that God is unnecessary. The previously-held belief in an eternal Universe did that already. This latest effort is just a way of maneuvering around the current scientific evidence and preventing it from pointing to a supernatural cause. From this perspective, it is less historic finding but rather a small event in the overall progress of science in its adherence to providing explanation without invoking a supernatural source.

But we have become so over-confident of science’s accomplishments that we have lost sight of its limitations. We have forgotten that science is only one branch of philosophy and, as mentioned, concerns itself with, and is thus limited to, the study of the natural world through careful observation. It does not deal with topics of a metaphysical nature, nor can it. It cannot determine for example the right and wrong of a situation, nor can it provide a formula for beauty, nor prove or disprove any reality that exists beyond the physical limits of our existence. Yes, it can provide the knowledge to manipulate matter and energy and fashion it to our advantage, even in the form of a rocket and send it to the moon. But it is not qualified, even designed, to answer such questions as the purpose of our existence, the question of eternity, or fathom the deep stirrings of the human heart.

The problem is, failing to understand this distinction places us at a marked disadvantage when it comes to matters of faith, and discerning what is ultimately true. In our next post, we shall further explore the philosophical underpinnings of science and attempt, so to speak, to put it in its proper place.

Faith: Failing to Breathe

In our last post we discussed the fact that faith is not an act of the will, a mere decision to believe without evidence. Were it so, it would be very difficult to have any faith at all. But faith is the evidence which compels the child of God to believe. It is not something to be mustered, but something that is imparted. Faith, for the child of God, is as natural as breathing.

The problem however is that this simple and natural act is constantly challenged in this life. The world is a hostile place: We are  bombarded with countless distractions daily. I do not mean so much distractions in the sense of running my kids to the doctor, or spilling coffee on my brand-new suit jacket, or dealing with a crisis at work, things admittedly that can take away our focus, and cause us to forget to pray or, say, read our Bible. No, the distractions I am thinking of are of a more metaphysical nature. These are the messages that enter our consciousness and challenge what we, in the faith region of our hearts, know to be true.

Continue reading “Faith: Failing to Breathe”