I don’t Believe in God, I Believe in Science!

I believe in Science not God

In the greatly enjoyable 2006 comedy Nacho Libre, there is one scene where Esqueleto a small and quite skinny man finds himself in a wrestling ring forced to fight another much bigger and taller man, or be beaten up by him. Just before the events continue, Nacho and Esqueleto engage in the following dialogue:

Esqueleto: I can’t wrestle him.

Nacho: But you’re tall and fast like a gazelle, you can do it. Pray to the Lord for strength.

Esqueleto: I don’t believe in God, I believe in science. (1)

It is this last line by Esqueleto which is really at the heart of what I want to focus on in this article. At the foundation, much of the debate in today’s contemporary world about God and science stems from this very idea that it is ‘God vs Science’; the more science we learn the less we need God as an explanation.

Most people (believers in God or not) will most likely be familiar with the term ‘God of the gaps’. What people might not know however, is where this idea stems from. You would think it stemmed from some scientist in the past who thought about this God vs Science conundrum and then pushed the concept forward…but no, it actually originates from a 19th century Scottish evangelical theologian named Henry Drummond. When he coined the concept, it was not meant to be an argument against God since he himself believed in God. The whole point of him creating the term was so that people in general could be made aware of the apparent separation, and then not fall into the trap of actually using it as an argument against God! That’s right, the main purpose of the ‘God of the gaps’ invention was so that it would not be used as an argument against God. So how have we gotten to a point in this era where this is now one of the most common arguments against God, especially as employed by high ranking scientists such as Richard Dawkins and Lawrence Krauss?

Well this brings me to another historical event which helps demonstrate why this thought is so captivating, although completely useless when applied logically to any situation. There is an account told (possibly apocryphal) about the 18th century French mathematician and astronomer Laplace in which Laplace presented his work to Napoleon, who asked him where God fitted in. Laplace replied to Napoleon by saying “I had no need for that hypothesis”.

Laplace’s reply is the same type of a reply that many non-believers in God will give (although worded differently) when confronted about a question to do with God and science. Within this mind-set, God is seen as a ‘God of the gaps’ explanation so that the more we find out about the universe the less we need God as an explanation. According to this idea, in our “evolutionary”(2) past, humans couldn’t explain much about the world and so they had to invoke god like beings to explain away phenomena like thunder and lightning (the Greek gods). Once however, we developed good science and figured out how those phenomena worked…poof, those gods vanished. So it’s basically the same thing with the God of the Bible today, we now know so much about the universe that God is simply irrelevant.

This sounds like such a conclusive argument, so it’s no wonder so many people fall prey to it and maybe feel comforted by it. However, ultimately it is very weak argument when analysed properly, and in order to show why this is, I will use none other than Ford cars to elaborate. (Oxford Professor of mathematics John Lennox alludes to this example all the time to make this same point).

Ford Cars, Science and God?

Imagine you own a Ford car, and after a while of use, the engine breaks down so you take it to the mechanics to have it fixed. Whilst there, you ask the local mechanic how exactly the engine works. At this point the mechanic delves into a very detailed and technical answer about internal combustion, and the four-stroke combustion cycle, and the tiny space for small explosions known as the piston for propelling the car etc. After this satisfying explanation, you then think about it all and proceed to ask the mechanic, “So how did the car come to exist in the first place?” The mechanic then replies by saying “Ah now that would be the work and brains of Henry Ford the creator of Ford cars.” Notice something very important here. Merely explain how the car worked did nothing to get rid of Henry Ford who is the explanation (the personal reason) for why the car exists in the first place. It is very easy to see that these two concepts – henry ford (the agent), and the laws of internal combustion (the process) – are not at war, but rather are complementing. If someone told you to pick one answer out of the two as an explanation of how Ford cars came to be, you would rightly tell them that that is a Ludicrous choice to try and make, both explanations are needed in order to give a complete account of the existence of the Ford car. (3)

Hopefully you are already able to see how this relates to the idea of science and God. Science is a method for explaining how things work (the mechanical explanation of the car), however God is the personal explanation for why there is a universe to study in the first place (Henry Ford). God and science not only do not compete, but cannot compete because they are in completely different categories. In philosophy, this type of mislabelling is called a category mistake: putting God under the umbrella of a scientific theory that can be done away with once a better theory comes along.

Genesis starts with the words “In the Beginning God created the heaven and the earth” This is to say that (as John Lennox puts it) “God is not a ‘God of the gaps’, he is the God of the Whole show.”(3a) He created the bits we do understand as well as the bits we don’t understand. To try to apply the ‘God of the gaps’ logic to the God of the Bible is to show a complete lack of understanding as to who the Biblical God is, not to mention it doesn’t even begin to address the issue of God at all because by definition, the concept doesn’t apply to Him.

Science and Religion in Conflict?

My reasoning so far is not meant to be used as conclusive evidence to show that God must exist. The point of this article is to expose the fallaciousness of the entire ‘God of the gaps’ argument against the existence of God. If we want to rightly source evidence for God’s existence, we can put forward the very same question that 17th century German philosopher Leibniz put forward when he asked the famous question, why is there something rather than nothing?

On an interesting final note, it is worth pointing out that another reason (amongst many more) why people seem to cling onto the notion of the ‘God of the gaps’ is because they think it supports the idea that science and religion have always been at war. Unfortunately, once again, this is simply not true. Almost all modern historians of science today now conclude that science and religion have never historically constantly been at war but rather that they have always complemented each other. Here are just a few quotes from professors and historians justifying this position.

 

  •  Historian of Science Edward Grant – speaking about the early Catholic Church:

What made it possible for Western civilization to develop science and the social sciences in a way that no other civilization had ever done before? The answer, I am convinced, lies in a pervasive and deep-seated spirit of inquiry that was a natural consequence of the emphasis on reason that begun in the Middle Ages(4)

  • Professor of Humanities Lawrence M. Principe:

The idea that scientific and religious camps have historically been separate and antagonistic is rejected by all modern historians of science(5)

  • Former Professor of Science and Religion at Oxford University Peter Harrison:

Today, people are less confident that history moves through a series of set stages toward a single destination. Nor, despite its popular persistence, do most historians of science support the idea of an enduring conflict between science and religion…In fact, contrary to conflict, the historical norm has more often been one of mutual support between science and religion. In its formative years in the 17th century, modern science relied on religious legitimation. During the 18th and 19th centuries, natural theology helped to popularise science (6)

 

Referencing 

[1] IMDb. 2006. Nacho Libre. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0457510/.

[2] I do not hold to the evolutionary account as being our true origins

[3] John C. Lennox. 2012. Not the God of the Gaps, But the Whole Show. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.christianpost.com/news/the-god-particle-not-the-god-of-the-gaps-but-the-whole-show-80307/.

[3a] Ibid.,

[4] Woods Jr, T., 2012. How The Catholic Church Built Western Civilization. 1st ed. United States: Regnery History. [Edward Grant – p 66] 

[5] Lawrence M. Principe, Transcript book for lecture course Science and Religion (Chantilly, VA: The Teaching Company, 2006), p. 23.

[6] Peter Harrison. 2017. Why religion is not going away and science will not destroy it. [ONLINE] Available at: https://aeon.co/amp/ideas/why-religion-is-not-going-away-and-science-will-not-destroy-it.

 

8 thoughts on “I don’t Believe in God, I Believe in Science!

  1. 2 points I wish to offer.

    1. There was a spirit of inquiry in ancient (pagan) Greece that predates the Christian era. So Christianity in the latter Middle Ages had something to draw on when the Arab translations of the ancient Greek texts were themselves translated into European languages.

    2. Modern man suffers from a form of egoistic intellectual arrogance and that contributes to his agnosticism and even to the atheism of some. God inscribed natural law on to the human heart. That is why the Hindus say we must work to awaken our innate love for God through devotion (bhakti) and service to God.

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    • Point 1: I don’t disagree at all with you. It is true that the Greeks did excellent work especially in natural philosophy, however Greece had a rational (perfect God perfect world mindset) one that actually did not allow science to advance for almost 800 years until the Christian framework took over. For example the Greeks never though to actually test whether a heavier object drops faster than a lighter one (for about 800 years), because in their Hellenistic worldview, once it made sense in their head then logically it must be true. Galileo came and turned this entire though on its head when he actually tested this assumption to find the true answer. And this is echoed throughout the Greek worldview as compared with the Christian one. The Greeks certainly attempted to get natural philosophy (as it was called back then) up and running, and they certainly got somewhere, but there was no chance for long term progress for them and indeed this is exactly what we find in history. Only when Christian philosophy stepped in did science advance dramatically, and gain longevity based on the Bible’s framework of the world as created by God.

      Point 2: I agree here with you. Absolutely a good and valid point to raise about the state of modern humans today. And it is certainly the case that the law has been placed on our hearts by God, that’s why it seems that so many other religions merely hint at what is fully revealed in the Bible (as you rightly say with the Hindu philosophy).

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  2. It is a nonsensical argument anyway. It starts from a premise that there is one religion to compare science to. It is automatically assumed that it is science against the Bible or Christianity. Even that itself is nonsense since one group (Roman Catholics) determined what books the Bible would contain not taking into account the beliefs and books of several other groups at that same time that claimed to be Christian. They are comparing an apple to a whole basket of oranges.

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    • Well partially, but not wholly. That premise is assumed simply because the western world’s history is far outweighed by Christian theology than any other religion (in the area of science and religion) so it is a bit of an axiom. However this doesn’t make it unreasonable. And historically we know that other religions such as Islam have certainly also helped in certain ways in the emergence of science.
      In terms of the Roman Catholics having put book in the Bible, you will need to be more specific about that. It isn’t simply the case that they just arbitrarily picked what was in the Bible. The original canon (66 books of the Bible) were more or less confirmed very very soon after Christ left the earth by a wide range of early church fathers and believers. Ever Bart Ehrman, a new testament atheist and one of the world leading NT scholars says this:

      “The canon of the New Testament was ratified by widespread consensus rather than by official proclamation”
      – Lost Christianities –

      Yes the Roman Catholic Church added some extra apocryphal books to the Bible (which is why they have 73 as opposed to 66) but there is a know historical reason for that: https://www.gotquestions.org/Catholic-Bible.html

      So I do agree with you somewhat on your whole point, but not with all of it (or rather, more clarity for my benefit is needed).

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      • In order for this to make ant logical sense you cannot say Science vs Religion. Religion is a broad term that encompasses all religions. Since different religions have totally different belief systems it makes it a non-nonsensical argument. If you said Science vs Hinduism than you could make the comparison.

        The reason I mention the formation of the Bible was two fold. First for some reason when anyone mentions science vs religion the automatic assumption is that you are comparing science to Christianity. Was I was trying to show is that even that is dubious. At the time of Christs death there were a variety of different Christian sects with very different interpretations of Christianity. The Gnostic’s for example held a very different view than the Catholics. At the counsel of Nicaea which was held at the direction of the Emperor Constantine they had to decide what was the nature of Christ and his relationship to God. The reason they had to decide was that there were so many different views of what the Trinity was.

        At the Synod of Hippo they decided which books would constitute the bible. Again the reason for this was that there were many different text’s at that time which held views totally opposing each other.

        After these various beliefs and texts were established the Roman Catholic church set about to destroy any of the texts that were not accepted to be part of the bile and to persecute any people practicing the other variants of Christianity.

        So the question is that even if you compare Christianity to Science, which form of Christianity are you comparing?

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  3. ” At the counsel of Nicaea which was held at the direction of the Emperor Constantine they had to decide what was the nature of Christ and his relationship to God. The reason they had to decide was that there were so many different views of what the Trinity was. ”

    This must be corrected. The Council of Nicea was called to combat the spreading heresy of Arias (a Jew) who asserted that Christ was merely a man, thus he denied Christ’s divinity. Nicea reaffirmed what had been believed since New Testament times. If you want to say that there had always been non-believers and heretics, that may be. But, there was a continuity of belief from New Testament times based on the Gospels who written by eye witnesses. The earliest written Gospels we know of now have been dated to around 60 A.D. This means these were likely written by actual witnesses to the events, to Christ’s public ministry, His crucifixion, and His resurrection.

    I think you do better if you stay on point with your original theme that “religion” needs to be more inclusive of other religious systems. Ronin, pray tell us of your take on Buddhism and science. And, not the watered down Western hippie Buddhism, but the more orthodox Theravada Buddhism.

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    • That is correct. I have to agree with Larryzb on the history here. Historians note that that is the true fact of what the Council of Nicea was about. It was literally nothing to do with putting book in the Bible.
      Again to confirm that, Dr Bart Ehrman atheist NT scholar even concludes this:

      “There are also a lot of people who think (I base this on the number of times I hear this or am asked about it) that it was at the Council of Nicea that the canon of the New Testament was decided. That is, this is when Christian leaders allegedly decided which books would be accepted into the New Testament and which ones would be left out.
      That too is wrong.”

      (https://ehrmanblog.org/widespread-misconceptions-council-nicea-members/)

      Yes I agree with Larryzb. Your point about the word religion is certainly a valid one and a good thing to point out. Of course religion is a broad term, and in my article I am focusing on Christianity. But as I pointed out, this isn’t really contradictory. Is is an axiom due to the history of the western world and it makes quite a lot of sense being that way. I am aware of other religions and philosophies and their impacts on science but here in the west, the major current dispute is between Christianity and Science and so that is my focus in this article. Again it is a fair point to raise however, so I can take that on board for other articles I write.

      Lastly your point about various forms of Christianity again is a honest point, however as Larry points out is quite unfounded unfortunately, since your argument depends on the premise that the Bible had not been established early enough before various other forms came about and thus, there were many forms of Christianity to compare to. This is simply not true historically. The Books of the Bible old and new had been established from very early on, way before the Council of Nicea.

      in 170AD at the Maratorian Council most of the NT book (we regard today) were already established as part of the NT. And we know that the gospels were established way before then as we have references from people (such as Irenaeus) in the early 2nd century already quoting scripture meaning that it was an established thing by that point.

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      • The advantage that the New Testament has over the Old Testament is that the accounts of events were committed to writing relatively quickly after the events. Much of he Old Testament was in oral tradition for centuries before being committed to writing. As well, there was a time of significant editing and re-compilation after the return from Babylon in the time of the priest, Ezra. Again, the Old Testament likely was altered when it was translated into Greek before the time of Christ (The Septugaint?). What I am saying is that we can have more confidence in the accuracy of the New Testament. The OT has some very problematic accounts and passages (which are beyond the scope of the discussion here).

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