“God and Science Don’t Mix”

So says Lawrence M. Krauss, not to mention many others, of course. But the problem Krauss as well as many other atheists face (feel free to chime in here Dallin) is that their belief in a “no-God doctrine” is based on a faulty understanding of God. That is, their logical train of thought says “The Catholic [insert any other religion here] idea of God doesn’t jive with known science, therefore there is no God.” But what if the Catholic[again, insert any other religion here–I’m not trying to pick on Catholics] idea of God is incorrect?

Krauss claims that “Science is only truly consistent with an atheistic worldview with regards to the claimed miracles of the gods of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.” But this simply isn’t true. At best we can only claim that what we know about science at this point in time doesn’t fully explain how certain miracles happened. The Bible says that Jesus rubbed dirt and spit in a blind man’s eyes and then told him to go wash his eyes in a contaminated, filthy pool of water, and then the man’s blindness is cured. Sounds fantastic, but only because we don’t know how it happened. We cannot legitimately claim that it is impossible. To do so one would have to prove that under no circumstances could the actions taken in that story result in blindness being cured.

What’s especially interesting about science with regards to religion is that the scientific method itself is based on faith. A hypothesis is an expression of faith. It says, in effect, “I believe that if we do such and such, that such and such will follow.” We then create tests to prove or disprove our statement of faith.

You can find atheistic scientists who have faith in all sorts of things the rest of us would find ridiculous or impossible. Most of the technology we have today would have sounded ridiculous and impossible a mere 50 years ago, let alone 200 years ago. It took faith to believe man could fly through the air, and without that faith we wouldn’t have airplanes today that can carry many tons of cargo thousands of miles through the air in a few hours. It took faith to create computers, the Internet, the light bulb, pharmaceuticals, etc. Before any of it was created it was “seen” with the eye of faith. And many more inventions and discoveries will be made in the future. I would guess there are many scientists who don’t believe in God, yet have no trouble believing that someday man will travel throughout space at, near to, or faster than the speed of light. It is true that some discoveries are made accidentally, but generally when someone is “expressing faith” in something else. It is rare that someone invents something or discovers something when they are looking for nothing at all, or not trying to create something.

The difference between faith in revealed science and faith in God is the supporting evidence. Naturally, there is more evidence to support the things we already know than there is to support things we don’t know. But a lack of knowledge about something is no reason to disregard it. Just because what limited information we have about God (which may or may not be correct) sounds hokey, that doesn’t mean it’s a matter not worth investigating. If we were to extend this line of thinking to science, then where would we be today? How many inventions would not exist? How much knowledge would still be hidden? How many diseases would remain uncured if scientists looked at a sick person and said “I have no evidence to convince me it is possible to cure this person, therefore I will not try.”

On the contrary, if God really does exist, what more important discovery could there possibly be? So many people have so much “faith” that there is no God based on so little evidence.

But what if there is a God? What if he has a plan for us? What if it is integral to that plan that we are not allowed to know for sure whether he exists or not unless we already want to believe he does? Then those who do not want to believe in God will receive no convincing signs that he does, while those who do want to believe he exists will receive evidence of his existence. And naturally, those who do not receive such evidence will think those who claim to have received such evidence are crazy, and vice versa.

My advice to scientific atheists would be to not base your belief in the non-existence of God on what you think you know about God. Maybe what you think you know about God is wrong. Maybe there is a God but he’s not like anything you’ve imagined before. Maybe there is no conflict between science and belief in God, only unresolved questions. If there is a God, is it worth missing out on that knowledge because you based your theory on faulty information?

Comments

  1. Well, the science of the miracles of the bible you talk about is making the assumption that the events in the bible actually occurred and were not merely and adaptation of previously existing mythologies present in Greco-Roman culture. (There are actually several ancient Roman/Greek gods who have exactly the same origin and life stories as Jesus.)

    About science proving or disproving God… I still think it's irrelevant. What if I don't CARE that "God has a plan" for me? If he really exists and is carrying out some plan on me then whatever… I chose to believe that stuff just happens, good or bad – and you deal with it as best as you can.

  2. True, I do assume those events actually did occur, but that's not germane (I love using that word) to my point, which is merely to point out that science cannot prove the purported miracles of the Bible to be impossible, which allows for the possibility that they did happen as described.

    If there is no God then obviously it doesn't matter whether one thinks he exists or not. If there is a God, and a plan, and our choices have eternal consequences, but one doesn't care about any of that, then that's a choice like any other and will bear with it eternal consequences. Actually, I should restate that, because the core of our doctrine is that choices don't necessarily lead to eternal consequences. So I should say that if one doesn't care then that may bear eternal consequences.

    I think it all boils down to people mostly believing what they want to believe. Which, from my perspective, is the genius of God's plan, because since we don't know for sure what is true, we express in our everyday choices, no matter how small, what type of person we want to be and what kind of reality we want to live in. I have a hunch that in the next life we pretty much get the kind of life we wanted, and if there are any regrets at all perhaps it's only that we didn't want a different kind of life. Kind of like how I say I want to be extremely fit with 12% body fat, but then I go and eat Ben & Jerrys. So in the next life perhaps I would be confined to a world where all I do is eat Ben & Jerrys and maybe I'd be happy with that, or maybe I'd look at the fit people who do triathlons for eternity and say "Man, I wish I wanted to be like that…well, maybe not."

  3. This is a weak argument. By your same standard then, every miracle any religion claims to have happened could have potentially happened. Jesus turned water to wine. Mohammed tore the moon into two halves. Poseidon walked on water. The list could go on and on. The burden of proof does not fall on science and generally science does not even attempt to try and figure it out. Why? Because there's no way to test for miracles.

    Using your own example, if you were to figure out how exactly Jesus claimed to have cured blindness with spit, mud, and a quick rinse, then it would no longer be a miracle as it would have a natural explanation. Miracles are supernatural by definition. Science only discusses the natural and has no say in the supernatural. This is why science and religion do not mix.

    • Perhaps we each have our own definitions for the word "miracle". To me, a miracle is an act of God the details of which lie outside our current understanding and generally seem "amazing". In my mind, all miracles have a scientific basis, we just don't know what that basis is. I guess you could say that for me, I don't see miracles as being supernatural, although again that depends on your definition of "supernatural" :)

      True, the burden of proof when it comes to religion is not on the scientific world, it is on the religion itself making the claims. But "burden of proof" is a two-edged sword. To avoid being a hypocrite a scientist must either try and figure it out or not. To try and prove the falsity of religion while ignoring anything in its favor, or to judge all religions based on one's limited understanding of a select few religions, can hardly be called objective.

      Regarding the first part of your statement that by my logic "every miracle any religion claims to have happened could have potentially happened", yes, that is the position I take. My objective here is not to prove that any particular miracle happened, only that using the scientific method we can disprove their possibility. It then falls to each of us to believe what we want to believe based on the limited evidence we have, which I believe is exactly God's plan. I don't think God wants to prove anything to anyone, he's more interested in what each of us really wants, and the only way he can tell is to put us in a state of limbo or doubt so that we're free to choose.

  4. Mr. Steimle,

    It's nice to see this topic addressed, as I find it is something that I overlooked as a believer and wish I would have studied earlier.

    I take issue with a few of your statements and would like to present a counter to your article.

    Your opening paragraph refers to Prof. Krass's article on his involvement in World Science Festival. He was on a panel that discussed religion and science, opposite two catholic scientists. He says in the article, "These scientists [Dawkins, et al.] have been castigated by believers for claiming that science is incompatible with a belief in God. On the one hand, this is a claim that appears manifestly false — witness the two Catholic scientists on my panel." However, further on in his article Krass specifies what he disagrees with, "they point out the inconsistency of belief in an activist god with modern science."

    Activist is an important descriptor of the god that Krass says does not mix with science. Two important parts of the scientific method are rendered void, namely observation and reproducibility, if "a 'god, angel, or devil' will interfere with one's experiments." Like any other epistemology, science has axioms it works from and uses to remain internally consistent.

    As you say, "[an] idea of God [that] is incorrect," very necessarily changes the nature of the discussion. Science assumes no supernatural interference with it's results to remain internally consistent. So we have three options that come immediately to mind; first, the assumption of non-interference is wrong and the scientific method is therefore unsound in reality while remaining internally consistent. Second, there is no supernatural interference with science and it's conclusion accurately reflect reality. Third, there is no supernatural interference, however certain things remain outside of science because they are not falsifiable.

    Your example of Jesus' healing of a blind man falls under the third category as an unfalsifiable hypothesis. You say, "We cannot legitimately claim that it is impossible." and the scientific method wouldn't claim that either. Rather, it would claim that the hypothesis is not falsifiable (read, not testable) and therefore does not fall under the bounds of scientific inquiry. You are very correct to state that, "one would have to prove that under no circumstances could the actions taken in that story result in blindness being cured," and that is exactly why science chooses which hypotheses are useful upon a criterion of falsifiability.

    In your third paragraph you define the formation of a scientific hypothesis as an action based on faith. To conflate these together is likely to cause a disagreement over semantics; arguing over subjective definitions does little to clarify the now muddy waters. Therefore I will merely state the reasons I disagree with your denotation. Firstly, when a hypothesis is formed is not a fact, it is an idea to be tested; a summation of probabilities. Often it is stated in a mathematical form and has been imagined through a process of induction, Bayesian inference, etc. I don't think your faith in god is merely a conjecture, a reasonable idea that has not yet been backed up with evidence, I know mine was not. Usually (forgive an assumption on my part) believers god hypothesis is not untested, but is backed up by spiritual experiences, codified in mormonism as a "testimony."

    If you still feel the conjecture of a hypothesis is analogous to your faith, then good for you. Seriously, looking at your perspectives and biases as things that need to be tested before being accepted is great idea. This brings us to your next point, the difference in evidence between the empirical validation of science and the subjectivity of spiritual experience. Science relies on empirical data because of reproducibility, nuclear fission has to be observed, measured and other people have to be able to observe and measure it as well. This reproducibility is not present in personal spiritual experiences. The observations and measurements your testimony is based on are not empirically reproducible by definition.

    Obviously, "But a lack of knowledge about something is no reason to disregard it," is not something science does, it investigates everything it can. It also leaves alone things it can't investigate, unfalsifiable hypotheses. By the nature of how science investigates things, ie. empirically testing them, it doesn't investigate things that can't be put through that process.

    In response to your version of Pascal's wager, I ask if you apply the same thing to the investigation of all incarnations of deity? Do you study Roman mythology for eternal answers and look to Mithra for guidance in hard times? Do you know what Vishnu requires for entrance to Nirvana or Zeus to the Fields of Elysium? In other words, do you take your own advice to heart and consider that your definition of god could be wrong?

    I did exactly that which is why I am no longer a mormon.

    I also want to address your first comment wherein you state, "I think it all boils down to people mostly believing what they want to believe." It has been shown (Science! Yay!) that often through the effect of cognitive dissonance our brains will change our beliefs to align with our actions. See: http://www.newsweek.com/id/218637

    Regards,

    Jason

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