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.

 

Is Science Based on Faith?

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When someone is trying to prove a point (usually to do with the physical world), they will often refer to science by saying something along the lines of “it’s been scientifically proven that X is true.” After this is said, supposedly the case is settled unless there is some sort of evidence to the contrary. This points to the fact that today in current culture science has been venerated, and for clear reasons too – technological advancements (phones, space rockets, computers) – biological advancements (health care, genetics), the list could go on and on.

Great as this may be (and I am a huge fan of science), my one fear is that this sort of progress has led to a very biased approach towards how we view science. Many people have lifted science above all other fields of discipline such as, history, philosophy, art, politics and so on. The most extreme version of this bias comes in the form of scientism – the view that science is the only way to know truth – now this worldview is easily defeated (the statement itself cannot be scientifically tested and so if it is true…it is false), however, that isn’t my main focus here. I really want to focus on the concept of science and faith.

For clarification, when I say faith, I don’t mean it in the sense of religious faith in a creator (there are at least four different definitions of the word faith), I mean faith in the sense of warranted faith, the type of faith that everybody on earth exhibits on a daily basis whether they are religious or not in order to get through life. For example, when you go to drink water from the tap or a bottle, you do not conduct science experiment upon science experiment to determine if the water is clean to drink. When you are sleeping at night, you do not barricade yourself in your room for fear that a family member or friend will walk in and suddenly pull a knife on you in order to do you damage. The list runs deep but when we really take time to view how we live life, we realise that we really do exhibit a lot of faith, and that is what gets us through. The main question again I want to address is this: Is science based on faith?

Now before we get into this, we need to define the word faith. The English Oxford Living Dictionary defines faith as:

Complete trust or confidence in someone or something 

In this sense, we don’t necessarily have to include anything specifically religious at this point, we are just talking about having confidence and trust in something, and anybody is capable of that.

So, is science based on faith? Well on the surface, it seems that the answer is a clear NO, of course it isn’t. Science works via observation, testing, repeating and confirming results, it is in the business of strictly empirical findings. This would seem to be true, and it is! However, the question that I’m asking is not about what science does, but rather what it is based on…or in other words, what makes science possible? I will just focus on one topic below in order to try and help answer the question…mathematics (there are many more paths we could go down).

Mathematics, science and faith?

Science, especially the discipline of physics is based upon mathematics. Mathematics underpins science and seems to uphold it (in a sense). The problem here is that, mathematics – as any scientists will tell you – is law like, so much so that it is essentially referred to as “laws of mathematics”. In order for scientists to be able to land people on the moon, and to be able to send satellites into orbit around the world they have to utilise these laws of mathematics. The huge underlying questions however are: what are the laws of mathematics? Where did they come from? And why are they so consistent? Notice that scientists didn’t create and do no not uphold these laws of mathematics. Einstein knew this very well when he made the statement saying: “How is it possible that mathematics, a product of human thought that is independent of experience, fits so excellently the objects of physical reality?”[1]

The problem is that science is supposed to work empirically, however, the laws of mathematics are immaterial. E=MC2 is not something physical you can touch, it is an immaterial mathematical equation which helps us to understand the nature of mass and energy. Hopefully you are starting to see the big picture here.

Fundamentally, there is a major disconnect between ‘doing science’, and ‘knowing why science works’. The ‘knowing why science works’ part is something that is believed primarily by faith when it comes to truths such as mathematical laws. In fact, this topic cuts so deeply into the world of science that it caused Nobel Prize winning mathematician Eugene Wigner to write an entire paper entitled The unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics in the natural sciences. The last quote at the end of the paper is probably one of the most striking, and it puts a finger on Wingers central thoughts on the whole topic. Winger says that:

The miracle of the appropriateness of the language of mathematics for the formulation of the laws of physics is a wonderful gift which we neither understand nor deserve. We should be grateful for it and hope that it will remain valid in future research and that it will extend, for better or for worse, to our pleasure, even though perhaps also to our bafflement, to wide branches of learning.[2]

This to me is a bit like a statement of faith from Wigner, and this is not a bad thing! It is just simply an admittance that science does not contain all the answers, and furthermore, it is an admittance that science cannot even fundamentally account for why it works in the first place.

 

Science and Religion

With this now is mind, I think it is easier to show that the straight line that people tend to draw between science as being “empirical truth” and religion as being “based on pure faith” in not as easily marked as first thought. A few point to consider are that:

  • Faith is a concept that applies to everybody whether religious or not.
  • Science is based upon faith on mathematical laws (and we could extend this to faith in gravity, energy, and light as well since nobody in the world knows what any those things fundamentally are)
  • There are at least four definitions of the word faith (Warranted, blind, evidence based, irrational,) and so we must know which definition we are talking about when we speak about the word
  • Scientists have a fundamental faith in certain unexplainable phenomena just like religious people do. God’s existence cannot be explained by humans, but neither can the laws of mathematics, or gravity, or energy, both fields exhibit very large degree of trust…faith!

 

References:

[1] Max Jammer. 1921. Einstein and Religion, Princeton University Press,

[2] Eugene Wigner. 1960. THE UNREASONABLE EFFECTIVENSS OF MATHEMATICS IN THE NATURAL SCIENCES. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.maths.ed.ac.uk/~aar/papers/wigner.pdf.