|Series Theme: Difficult Questions|
Title: 16. Hasn't Science Disproved the Existence of God?
A series that helps consider difficult questions of the Christian faith
Haven't modern scientific discoveries disproved the existence of God and our need for God?
The answer to this question is remarkably simple in essence - No! Yet on examination, it requires a little deeper thinking than simply to say, "No!".
This will become quite a large page, but we hope you will find it worthwhile to read through to the end.
The question comes out of a combination of misunderstanding of
a) what science is and
b) how God has made us.
1. What Science is
A simple dictionary definition is as follows:
"knowledge acquired by careful observation."
That "careful observation" is what we hear about in the papers or on TV, the often incredibly complex research that goes on. At the end of it the scientist basically says, "This is how it works!" No problem.
The 'problem' often occurs when scientists then start trying to say why it works and what to do with what they have found.
2. The Problem of Interpretation - why it works!
i) Example: The Question of the Brain
An example of this difficulty was seen in the reporting of neurotheology - the role that the brain plays in religious experience - in early 2003.
Put in its simplest form, scientists were reported as having identified certain brain patterns or behaviours with known religious experience. Now that, according to the basic definition above, is the "knowledge acquired by careful observation".
Watch this carefully: what they were suggesting (quite possibly correctly - we don't know how careful and accurate their investigations were - but let's assume they were right!) was that certain religious behaviour or experience produces certain brain patterns OR (to reverse it) certain brain patterns produce religious experiences.
Now the two things are quite different. They are:
1. Experiencing God creates certain brain patterns.
2. Certain brain patterns create an experience that might be akin to that expected by some form of spiritual or religious encounter.
But have you realised what we are doing? We are arguing about the interpretation of the observable facts.
How we interpret them will NOT depend on science, but will depend on the presuppositions we have about life and experience already.
If we are a scientist who already does not believe in the existence of God, then possibility no.1 above, HAS to be ruled out.
Yes, they may be able to stimulate the brain in a variety of ways to create similar emotions or psychological experiences to that experienced by a genuine encounter with God, but then we know that any genuine human experience can be duplicated or falsified.
If our scientist was a believer in God, he might say, "Oh this is interesting. We've simply found another human experience that occurs when there is an encounter with God, just another one among the many physical/mental/emotional things that can take place in such an encounter."
Science can only provide the observable information in such cases. What then follows is personal interpretation which is NOT made on the basis of that information, but upon a whole range of other factors.
ii) Spooky Experiences
September 2003 saw yet another Don Quixote type of assault by scientists on the windmills of religion. This time the assault was by inaudible "soundless music".
"Blasts of infrasound, very low-frequency vibrations at the limit of the human ear’s range, can lead to spooky experiences that the brain takes to be supernatural, British researchers say" was the report in the paper. OK, no problem so far.
Infrasound, the report goes on later "offers strong support to the idea that it is involved when people perceive a spiritual presence." Really?
Do you see the logic jump here? Play infrasound and you get spooky feelings, therefore all spooky feelings are caused by infrasound. That is bad logic! That is pure interpretation of events.
It is possible that some such experiences are caused in this way, but it is impossible to say that all such 'spiritual' experiences are caused similarly.
As above, our scientist who is a Christian might say, "How interesting, we've found a means of duplicating the experiences some people have in the spiritual realm." Duplicate means to copy the original, genuine thing.
iii) The Question of Genetics
The early part of the 21st century has seen incredible leaps forward in the whole area of genetics. It seems a month rarely goes by without headlines proclaiming that a certain behaviour is now found to have a genetic cause.
If you have THIS particular gene then you will be disposed (forced) to behave in this particular way.
Now note again exactly what is being said here: "In people with this particular gene, we observe this particular behaviour".
Again, that is the "knowledge acquired by careful observation" part of the equation. This particular one is more difficult and science will no doubt get more and more refined in this area.
Think some more about this:
To quote the Telegraph newspaper back in April 1999, "The enormity of the task is hard to grasp. Wading through the genetic code distributed in the 46 chromosomes that lie in every cell, scientists must read every letter of the code, known as a base, and understand the 100,000 or so genes which combine to produce the mammoth encyclopaedia that constitutes a human ."
A hundred thousand or so genes and we are attributing behaviour to one? Perhaps not.
Then the language changes sometimes to "people with this gene are disposed to act in this manner".
Now this comes down to language that the psychologist or the pastor understand. We are all disposed to be self-centred, we are all disposed to get angry when we are thwarted. The Bible is full of 'negative behaviours' that we are disposed towards, but that doesn't mean to say that we HAVE to be like that.
We actually know that with the exception of fairly rare cases, the vast majority of us have choices at every turn in life. Whether to smile at someone or scowl. Whether to tell the truth or a lie. We know by our experience that we can genuinely make these choices. (the Determinist who says we are predetermined to act in a a particular way flies against every sense that we have, and also cannot ever prove his assertion).
So, 'scientific language' that says people HAVE to act in certain ways because of having a certain gene, is actually unscientific. It is an interpretation of the facts.
3. The Problem of Ethics
While still looking at what science is, we should also look at the problem of deciding what to do with the information or "knowledge acquired by careful observation."
In other words, we have found out much about how life 'works' and indeed, how to change things, but then comes the question, SHOULD we do this or that? This is the area of ethics.
For example, science can provide the basic information of 'how' but it cannot tell you
These are questions outside of the "careful observation producing knowledge" process.
The science of nuclear technology is neutral. It can be used for good (producing power) or for harm (producing nuclear weapons). The United States produced the weapons that killed millions in Japan on the basis of one evil to prevent a bigger evil. That's all we're left with in a Fallen World sometimes, but the decision to proceed with that research was an ethical one.
Increasingly cries are made for greater controls on scientists at the forefront of new developments. Is their work energised by the profit motive? Is it being done partly to gain personal fame?
And because, in the human equation, those less than perfect motivations are frequently present, should decisions as to what is done with the information they are producing, be left to them. These are the dilemmas of modern science, and answers will often NOT come from the scientific information, but from the world-view that the individual holds.
In a society where moral restraints are being removed, because THE one sure secure base (a belief in and submission to God) is being removed, the future is worrying.
4. How God has Made Us - An analogy
A child of a very rich father, initially doesn't understand the wealth that underpins his or her life.
As they grow up, they begin to understand and then begin to have access to it. The father, desiring them to learn responsibility, gradually increases their access to his wealth.
Possibly, with the immaturity of youth, the young person will spend and spend with little thought of the consequences.
Now that is not a bad analogy in respect of how God has made the human race.
He's given us a planet to live on, that is packed with variety and goodness. Some things are harmful if used wrongly or in excess and wisdom often, therefore, means restraint.
5. How we're made - to develop
God also gave us the ability to investigate and to invent and to create. That is what we call science and technology.
God knows how every single thing in existence works, and how it works best.
What some call evolution of the human race, might be more accurately called an evolution of knowledge. With every new piece of knowledge comes both opportunity and responsibility.
Unfortunately we're often like the youth in the analogy and we just take the new knowledge as an opportunity to use it for personal and selfish reasons, regardless of the consequences.
6. The Danger of the Deception of Pride
But even more than that, when new discoveries are made, many often fall into the deception of almost feeling that they have MADE this new thing. They didn't, of course, it was already there waiting to happen, they simply found about about it.
Silly talk from otherwise great scientists that "We don't need God now," is just that, silly talk by immature youths (to use the analogy above).
The reason they use such talk, is that they object to the thought of some Being greater than them. That is pride. It objects to being told that someone knows considerably more than they do and, even more importantly, knows the best way for life to be lived and the best way for knowledge to be used.
That sort of talk is also based on the wrong understanding of the relationship of scientific knowledge to God.
There used to be silly talk about the "God of the Gaps", meaning that God was only God of those areas where we didn't know, so as we leant more and more, God was squeezed out and was not considered necessary.
Think of it in a different way: here is God, maker of all things, who puts the human race onto this planet with the capabilities of discovery. It was all there from the start.
Nothing has changed, nothing apart from how much we understand about this world - that has developed through the centuries, and that is how God has made us to be.
7. The Value of all this Knowledge
Are we better off today with all this increasing knowledge? Yes and no.
Yes, in that the knowledge of recent centuries, and more specifically this last century, has improved the possible quality of human lives.
We have the capability of feeding more people (the entire planet actually, without a problem!), clothing and housing more people, and providing better health care.
But then you come to the human problem, the thing that the Bible calls Sin - that self-centred tendency to be utterly for self, to the exclusion of others and of God.
That's what leads to wars, conflicts, injustices, lack of care for the weak and needy of the world.
Our own society in the West is more affluent than ever before, yet man's inhumanity to man continues unabated.
Like the youth of our analogy above, we have not learnt. Science cannot do that for mankind.
In many circles, that area of science that we call 'psychology' - that study of human behaviour, is under severe attack for not providing the answers that the early practitioners led us to believe would come.
We have increased our knowledge, we have increased our scientific capabilities, we have increased our material provision, and we have increased our problems.
A great scientist may be great in their breadth of thinking, and their capabilities for research, yet they may still kick the dog, scream at their partner, get into debt and be thoroughly obnoxious.
Being a human being is more than simply increasing knowledge. Without a change of heart, increased knowledge simply enables man to be nastier!
8. And to Conclude:
What have we observed here:
We hope the above observations will be helpful to you as you consider these matters.